Half Of Normal-Weight
White Girls Think They Are Fat
NEW YORK - More than half of normal weight, white adolescent girls consider themselves fat, according to results of a new report. The study's author believes this group of girls may be at risk for health problems stemming from frequent dieting and eating disorders.
"Adolescents' perception of their body weight is dependent on social, cultural, and family pressures," reports Dr. Richard S. Strauss of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Strauss examined data on over 1,900 adolescents, aged 12 to 16, collected as part of the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 1988 and 1994.
Interviews with adolescents revealed that "white adolescent girls are particularly likely to consider themselves overweight and try to lose weight even when their weight is well within the healthy weight range," Strauss writes in the July issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. In fact, 52% of normal-weight white girls interviewed considered themselves overweight. White girls were more than twice as likely as black girls to start dieting, and more than six times as likely to begin dieting compared with white boys.
Perceived " rather than real " weight status appears to be the driving force behind dieting among many adolescents. Seven out of 10 adolescents who considered themselves overweight "reported having tried to lose weight within the last year," according to Strauss " compared with just 15% of youngsters who considered themselves of normal weight for their age.
Numerous studies have suggested that fixation on dieting and weight loss raises risks for eating disorders. Strauss believes adolescent white girls may have an especially high sensitivity for poor body image because of an "increasing emphasis on thinness by television, advertising, and marketing campaigns" aimed at youth. He also points out that whites " but not blacks " tend to exalt thinness as part of an "ideal body type."
The study findings also suggest that overweight or obese children remain deeply concerned about losing weight. "Overweight children are often dismissed (by others) as lazy and indulgent," he writes. However, Strauss reports that "more than 90% of obese children (surveyed) say they want to weigh less."
He believes that families of unhealthily overweight children can and should do more to encourage weight loss in their obese child. These efforts can be "time-consuming, difficult, and often frustrating," he writes, but "...long-term success is achievable."