Satisfaction with one's physical appearance is at an all-time low among today's adolescents, and eating disorders are on the rise at an ever-younger age, according to reports by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Much of the blame goes to the media and fashion industry and their standards of beauty and fitness that are nearly impossible to reach for normal mortals.
On the other hand, too many young people don't take warnings about overweight and obesity seriously enough and underestimate the health risks they will be facing as adults. One recently published study concluded that inaccurate self-perception of body weight among teenagers and young adults often prevents important changes in eating behavior and physical activity.
"Overweight adolescents who do not perceive their weight status properly are less likely to desire weight loss, and are more likely to have a poor diet," wrote Dr. Jian Zhang, an epidemiologist at Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, and lead author of the study report, in a press release published in the Elsevier journal.
The misperception oftentimes originates with parents who are unaware of or unsure about weight issues concerning their offspring. In fact, one study found that most parents perceived their kids' weight as "about right," despite ample evidence to the contrary. And even those who saw a problem believed that it was only a temporary matter that would resolve itself over time.
According to research, people in general derive their norms and ideals from their social environment rather than from set standards. Especially adolescents, who are highly impressionable and vulnerable to peer pressure, tend to measure themselves against their immediate surroundings. If the prevailing message is that only thinness is acceptable, the risk of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia may increase. Likewise, if excess weight is perceived as normal, that message may lead to unhealthy eating habits with their own set of undesirable consequences.
Becoming more conscious of and admitting to existing or developing problems is a necessary first step to adopting behavioral changes for nutritional health as well as successful weight management. It is important to find a good balance from early on. As studies have shown, once the tracks are set, it becomes much harder to implement corrections that produce lasting results later on.
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