Adolescent girls who think they are overweight, but are not, are at more risk for depression than girls who are overweight and know it, according to Penn State sociologists.
"Parents often worry about overweight girls' mental health, but our findings show that it is girls who have a healthy weight but perceive being overweight who are most likely to feel depressed," said Jason N. Houle, graduate student in sociology and demography.
In the past, researchers have looked at the consequences for adolescents of actually being overweight and they looked at how adolescent perceptions of their weight influenced their lives. But, "focusing on the intersection of weight and weight perceptions better shows which adolescents are at risk of depressive symptoms than an approach that treats both predictors as independent, unrelated constructs," the researchers report in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
"Clinicians cannot assume that healthy weight adolescents know their weight is healthy or feel good about it," said Michelle L. Frisco, assistant professor of sociology and demography.
Eighty percent of girls who are overweight know that they are overweight, but 40 percent of boys who are overweight do not think they are overweight. This reinforces the idea that while the medical and public health world knows what overweight and obese means, the public may not. Also, there is more to the problem than simple physiology; psychology plays an important part.
The researchers found that female weight pessimists -- girls who thought they were overweight but were normal weight -- or boys who were actually under weight were at high risk for depressive symptoms.
"For boys it is slightly different," said Houle. "There is a similar pattern with weight pessimists, but underweight boys are extremely distressed. Underweight boys are far more likely to be distressed than boys who are heavier."
|Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer|