Janet M. Liechty

Expert from the University of Illinois reveal that normal weight and underweight teenage girls who wrongly believe that they are overweight are at an increased risk of following unsafe weight loss regimes. This was in comparison to girls who assess their weight status. Experts share that body-image distortion is seemingly a better screening tool to assist in identifying non-weight girls who fall prey for unsafe weight-loss practices.

Childhood obesity is a major concern but it is essential that emphasis should be on children who are over-weight. Body-image distress among children who weigh normally could however be overlooked. If these problems are given a deaf ear then it may lead to unhealthy weight-loss behaviors, disordered eating and future weight problems. Teens that are at greater risk may be examined for unsafe weight-loss behaviors.

Janet M. Liechty, a professor of social work and of medicine at Illinois comments, “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. 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.”

Experts analyzed the link between body-image distortion and three weight loss behaviors namely exercise, dieting and extreme ways of losing weight like laxatives, diet pills and purging. They accumulated samples of more than 5000 non-overweight adolescent girls in the U.S with body-mass index less than the 85th percentile. They further compared the teen’s main objective weight status with what they believed their status to be and they identified inconsistencies.

Teens were marked with the overestimation or body-image distortion discrepancies if they accounted themselves to be overweight when they actually were not. Experts used logistic regression to examine how overestimation of weight status affected future weight-loss behaviors. This analysis helps to predict the start of the three types of weight-loss behaviors after a year. Body-image distortion was observed to reveal the beginning of dieting and unsafe ways to lose weight.

Liechty, adds, “What this means is, a girl with a distorted body-image is at much greater risk for resorting to unsafe dieting and extreme weight-loss methods than a girl without body-image distortion, even if she doesn’t need to lose weight”.

The findings highlight the significance of enhancing a precise and positive body-image along the teenage years than being affected by dieting and extreme methods to lose weight that are harmful. Experts share that if teens begin a risky weight loss strategy they are likely to continue using that method.

“It doesn’t just fade away or stop all of a sudden,” Liechty said. “That’s why early detection of risk factors such as body-image distortion, and prevention of unnecessary dieting and unsafe weight-loss methods, is the key to pre-empting unhealthy behaviors. We need to educate girls and their parents that fad diets, quick-fix promises, and extreme weight-loss methods are a hoax. They don’t work over the long term and they might do harm.”

Body-dissatisfaction is seemingly associated with eating disorders, depression and high-risk behavior among adolescent girls. It may alert against unsafe weight-loss among teens and the experts suggest the condition to have no association with girls’ use of exercise as a medium to loose weight. It may also stimulate girls to adopt unsafe but not safe methods of weight control. This according to Liechty is essential as exercise is known to be a standard recommendation for healthy adolescent weight management and it has many health benefits like cardio-respiratory fitness and improved mood.

Experts share that these findings emphasize the necessity for deterrence of efforts that promote positive and exact body-image among adolescent girls. They suggest that the best method to control weight is to keep lifestyle changes at focal point and not radical measures. Extreme measures cause chaos within our body chemistry as well as our attitude towards food and our bodies. Liechty suggests that it is essential to learn healthy weight-loss and protection behaviors as bad habits may become a habit causing lifelong tussle with eating. She further explains that overweight teens who wish to lose weight require a sensible and sustainable plan and if they don’t require losing weight they should abstain from fat diets, quick weight loss regimes and extreme methods like diet pills and purging.

The main problem is revolving around food and our bodies. A distorted weight status makes an individual more susceptible to adopt unsafe weight-loss behaviors. Experts share that it is necessary to develop a positive, realistic and appreciative link with your body despite your weight. Individuals must also acquire eating and activity habits that balance input and output and that can be lived with for a long time.

This article was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.