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Many Teens ‘Misjudge They Have a Weight Problem’

Peter Russell

More than a third of overweight or obese teenagers don’t think they are too heavy and consider their weight to be about right, according to a study. Cancer experts say the findings are worrying because carrying excess weight increases the chance of developing many cancers.

Are you the right weight?

The research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, used data from 4,979 adolescents aged 13 to 15 in England who took part in a health study. The volunteers had answered the question: ‘Given your age and height, would you say that you are about the right weight, too heavy, or too light?’

The researchers from University College London then checked the answers against their Body Mass Index (BMI) to see whether the reality matched the teenagers’ perceptions of themselves.

They found that:

  • 73% of the teenagers had a BMI within the normal-weight range.
  • 20% had a BMI in the overweight category
  • 7% were categorised as obese.
  • Of those who were either overweight or obese, around 40% thought they were about the right weight.

However, the study also identified some positive aspects. For instance, more than 8 in 10 of the normal-weight teenagers correctly identified themselves as being about the right weight.

Celebrate or worry?

Lead researcher Professor Jane Wardle, says in a statement: “This study was a cause for celebration and concern. Young people who think they’re overweight when they’re not can sometimes develop devastating eating disorders, so we’re delighted that most of the normal-weight teenagers had a realistic view of their body size.

“But we need to find effective ways of helping too-heavy teenagers slim down and maintain a healthier weight, and it’s vitally important that we find out whether it helps if they are more aware of their weight status. There are no easy answers.”

‘Make healthy changes’

Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, which supported the research, says in a statement: “Overweight teenagers are more likely to become overweight adults at higher risk of cancer, so it’s important that young people who are too heavy have support to be more active and make healthy changes to their diet.”

She adds: “Being aware that they are above a healthy weight could be a first step. Making these changes as teenagers could help protect them from cancer as adults.”

Published: 10th July 2015. By Peter Russell
Copyright ©2009-2015 WebMD UK Limited and Boots UK Limited

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