Research Says “Feeling Fat’ As A Teen Leads To Being Fat Later In Life

body imageWe’ve always known that a positive body image is important for a healthy life. Not being able to accept or appreciate what you see in the mirror can lead to disordered thoughts about food and exercise. It can impact mental health and self-confidence. So I suppose that it makes sense to connect the dots between flawed ideas about weight and future health. But I don’t think anyone expected them to be so closely related.

Research by Koenraad Cuypers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is showing a very clear connection between teens who feel fat, even when they aren’t, becoming overweight or obese later in life.

I have to admit, this research is a little troubling to me. I thought that every teen girl looked at the mirror and pinched her barely-there thighs at some point, worrying that maybe she should go running or something. Isn’t that what we all did? Wasn’t that just part of the insecurities that surround high school? I have to admit that I was that girl at one point in my life. For me, it didn’t lead to much more than a couple ill-fated attempts to diet, which I’ve always been horrible at, and a little embarrassment at the beginning of bathing suit season. Then I always got over it and went about my day.

Now I realize that for many people, their experience doesn’t mirror mine. Not believing or recognizing what you see in the mirror can have a seriously detrimental impact. At the same time, I think that there are a lot of teens out there who go through the same thing I did. They get insecure, but it doesn’t dramatically change their habits.

I guess the concept of grouping together all teens who feel fat sometimes makes me a little nervous, because that seems to cover a very wide swath of people. And yet, the numbers rarely lie.

Cuypers discovered that 22 percent of the girls thought they were too fat or chubby as teens. Of this group, 59 percent became chubby adults, if the researchers used BMI to measure obesity; if they used waist circumference, 78 percent were overweight. About 31 percent of the teens who thought they were normal weight became overweight adults according to BMI results, with 35 percent being fat according to waist measurements. When it came to the boys, 9 percent believed they were fat teens — again, even though they weren’t — and of this group, 63 percent became overweight adults.

Cuypers even admits, “We did not expect that having a bad body image would affect weight gain so clearly.”

I think the important take away from this study is showing just how important it is to talk to teens about positive body image. We should accept those random insecurities as just being normal parts of development. I was apparently one of those teens who needed a reality check.

This study really just gives us another reason to support and encourage positive examples of healthy body image int he media for our teens to see. It reinforces the world done by anti-photoshopping campaigns and “Real Model” movements. Teens need healthy body image to stay healthy later in life.

So for all you girls pinching your thighs out there, please take a step back. Please don’t go running or try a diet. Take a long, hard look in that mirror and be realistic and proud of what you see!

(Photo: Kikalishvili Mamuka/Shutterstock)

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    • Summer

      This seems pretty obvious to me. Troubling, yes, but obvious. Are we just accepting now that “feeling fat” is a normal stage of teenage development? It’s an atrocity. The magnitude of the teen body issues (and childhood body issues, because let’s face it: for many girls it’s starting around age 5 now) that girls are absorbing is a hideous symptom of a diseased, fat-shaming culture filled with mixed messages and impossible ideals.

      Sure, some girls will respond to the indoctrination by maniacally controlling every aspect of their appearance in order to escape the shame, but it’s to be expected that some others will just give up the seemingly impossible struggle to become “thin enough”; or internalize the shame so deeply that they wind up addicted to behaviors that lead to weight gain; or end up with a seriously messed up relationships with food due to their early dieting attempts; or permanently damage their digestive systems with eating disorders.