According to studies young adolescents who worry about being fat may try to control the situation through unhealthy strategies. This could actually set them up for increased weight gain or eating disorders.
A study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of College London looked into the cases of over 7,000 young people who participated in the British longitudinal study “Children of the 90s.”
Body-Image Fears Of Adolescent Girls And Boys
After examining the collected data, researchers found that two out of three young adolescent girls had expressed fear that they would gain weight. And one out of three were currently dissatisfied with how much they weighed and how their bodies looked. One of the researchers, Nadia Micali, was surprised by just how many 13-year-old girls were stressing over appearance concerns.
Another surprising finding was the amount of adolescent boys, 20 percent, who exhibited thought and behavior patterns associated with disordered eating, including unhappiness over their personal weight and body shape. The problem being that these young men and women aren’t only feeling dissatisfied, they are taking unwise steps in an attempt to gain control over their bodies and their fears.
Food-Restriction And Other Eating Disorder Problems In Adolescents
One out of four young girls and one out of seven young men had practiced food restriction – not eating all day, eliminating one or more meals or throwing food into the trash – as a way to control weight during the preceding three months. Less than one percent of both sexes used self-purging techniques like vomiting or laxatives in order to drop weight.
The U.K study’s findings mirror similar findings in the U.S. in terms of how many adolescents may be thinking and behaving. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that more than 50 percent of American adolescent girls, and over 30 percent of adolescent boys, use unhealthy methods of weight control. The problem could easily morph into a full-blown eating disorder for many of them.
U.S. studies show that girls form their self-image early. Research from 1990 showed that 81 percent of 10-year-olds were already expressing worry over weight, and 2010 research found that even three-year-olds showed signs of a preference for thinness. The anxiety sets in early and can lead to varying degrees of harm.
Unfortunately, the fact is that early use of unhealthy weight management behaviors can actually increase the risk for being overweight by age 15. Studies have shown that increased worry often produces increased weight over the next two years.
Parents: Be Alert To Signs Of Weight And Shape Worry
Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic encourage parents to be alert to signs of weight and shape worry and to take those concerns seriously. Parents can guide children and adolescents toward responsible health decisions rather than ones which exacerbate their fears.