- 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
- 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."