A new study sheds some fascinating light on body image and what it can do to your actual body. Study authors Angelina Sutin, a psychological scientist at Florida State University, and Antonio Terracciano found that teenager show perceive themselves as overweight are actually more likely to become obese as adults. Certainly, skewed body image is understood to be a warning sign of anorexia and bulimia. But researchers now think that it could also be tied to obesity.
Those who falsely feel that they are overweight may be more likely to eat in unhealthy ways and to use unhealthy weight-control behaviors like using diet pills and bulimia.
Interestingly, boys were more at risk than were girls in the study. Boys had an 89% increased risk of later obesity when they perceived themselves to be overweight as teenagers. As Sutin explained, “Our research shows that psychological factors are important in the development of obesity. Misperception is typically taken as a sign of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, but our research shows that it may also signal a long-term risk of obesity.”
They used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. With this material, they were able to look at the height, weight and body image thoughts of more than 6500 young people when they were 16 and then 28. When compared to those who had an accurate view of their weight, young people with misperceptions had a 40% greater risk of becoming obese adults.
As the researchers explained, “Adolescents who misperceive themselves as being overweight may not take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy weight….[as] they gain weight, they physically become what they have long perceived themselves to be.”
They do not yet have an answer as to why this is more evident in boys than it is in girls.