CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Normal weight and underweight teenage girls who falsely believe they are overweight are at significantly greater risk of succumbing to unnecessary and unsafe weight-loss behaviors than girls who can accurately assess their weight status, according to new research by a University of Illinois expert in eating disorders and body-image perception.
Janet M. Liechty, a professor of social work and of medicine at Illinois, says that body-image distortion, rather than the more commonly used measure of body dissatisfaction, may be a better screening tool to help identify non-overweight girls at risk for unsafe weight-loss practices.
"Body-image distortion appears to be a more discriminating indicator of distress than body dissatisfaction, but it's not something that's typically screened for by health-care providers," Liechty said.
"Usually, teens and their parents only get weight-related feedback from the doctor when the child is overweight. But kids of any weight can struggle with body-image, and poor body-image can negatively affect medical outcomes in ways we often don't recognize."
Childhood obesity is an important public health concern, but if the emphasis is only on children who are overweight, signs of body-image distress among normal weight kids could be overlooked, Liechty says. If left unaddressed, those problems could eventually translate into unhealthy weight-loss behaviors, disordered eating and future weight problems.
"Body-image distortion is something we can begin to screen for to identify teens at risk for unsafe weight-loss behaviors," she said.
Liechty's research, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, examined the relationship between body-image distortion and three types of weight-loss behaviors exercise, dieting, and extreme ways of losing weight such as laxatives, diet pills and purging.
Culling from a longitudinal sample of more than 5,000 non-overwe
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign