Teens Often Off the Mark About Their Weight, With Unhealthy Results

"American adolescents who misperceive their weight are significantly more likely to engage in unhealthy dietary and food habits, and are more likely to have sedentary lifestyles," said corresponding study author Jagdish Khubchandani. He's a health science professor at Ball State University, in Indiana.

"On the contrary, teenagers who have accurate perceptions of their weight practice healthier behaviors or avoid risky weight-loss methods," he added in a university news release.

In the study, the researchers analyzed government data on about 12,000 U.S. teens (aged 15 to 17), and found that 32 percent were overweight or obese.

Nearly 23 percent of the teens misperceived their weight, with 11.6 percent incorrectly believing they were overweight, and 11.3 percent weighing more than they should but thinking it's healthy and underestimating their weight.

Girls were more likely than boys to misperceive their weight, the investigators found.

Teens who incorrectly believed they were overweight were less likely to drink fruit juice or milk, eat fruits, or have breakfast on a regular basis.

Teens who were actually overweight or believed they were overweight were least likely to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, five days a week, the researchers noted.

"Recent evidence also suggests that adolescent weight misperception is associated with obesity in adulthood," Khubchandani said.

"Early childhood interventions to promote appropriate weight-related perception and weight management could have a lasting impact on chronic disease burden, in addition to preventing unhealthy diet and physical inactivity in youth," he suggested.

"Interestingly, weight misperception has also been linked with eating disorders that are a major cause of morbidity in young Americans," Khubchandani said.

"School nurses and health teachers are uniquely poised to educate students and prevent weight misperception, eating disorders, and engage students in healthy behaviors," he added.

He also said that "regular exercise routines in youth also shape future physical activity behaviors. A variety of school-based and cost-effective interventions to enhance youth physical activity have been documented in the literature that can be implemented with youth in school settings."

The study was published recently in the Journal of School Nursing.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers health tips for teens.

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