Body weight perception is linked to several health behaviours. A new study has found an increase in the number of teenagers who underestimate their body weight. The researchers warn that this could reduce the effectiveness of public health interventions focused on weight reduction in young people.
The study involving over 745,000 adolescents from 41 countries in Europe and North America analysed data from 2002 to 2018. The findings published in Child and Adolescent Obesity also indicate a prominent decrease in those who overestimate their weight.
Body weight perception (BWP) is linked to health behaviours as individuals' perceptions of their own weight can influence their attitudes, beliefs, and actions related to health and well-being. The new findings show that while correct weight perception gradually increased among girls, it decreased among boys. It also showed that more girls and boys now underestimate body weight status, and this trend was stronger among the girls.
According to the study, body weight misperception happen when there is a discrepancy between perceived and actual weight status, and this can be either overestimation or underestimation. Body weight misperception is common during adolescence, and underestimation is particularly seen among adolescents who are overweight or obese.
"During this impressionable age, body weight perception may influence a young person's lifestyle choices, such as the amount and types of food they eat and their exercise habits," lead author Dr Anouk Geraets, from the Department of Social Sciences, at the University of Luxembourg said in a press statement, as reported by ANI.
Commenting on the findings, Geraets added that it's concerning to see the trend where fewer adolescents perceive themselves as overweight, as this could hinder efforts to address increasing levels of obesity in the age group. "Young people who underestimate their weight and therefore do not consider themselves to be overweight may not feel they need to lose excess weight and, as a result, they may make unhealthy lifestyle choices."
Notably, a 2017 study published in the journal Obesity Reviews stated that although failure to identify overweight or obesity is assumed to damage health, evidence indicates that this presumption may be incorrect.