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Frequent weight checks tied to less self-esteem for young women

Teens who often weigh themselves may be more likely to have mental health problems, according to a new study.

Girls who said they often weigh themselves were more likely to have depression, weight concerns and self esteem issues, researchers found.

“The findings from this study suggest that for some teens and young adults, self-weighing is associated with poor psychological health and it is important that we use caution when recommending self-weighing or any strategy for weight control that may not be beneficial for some individuals,” said lead author Carly R. Pacanowski, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The 10-year study tracked almost 2,000 adolescents, most of whom were female. They were surveyed, weighed and measured in 1998, when they were in middle or high school and then again in 2003 and 2008 as they transitioned into young adulthood.

Overall, few participants agreed that they weighed themselves "often," the researchers reported in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

But among women whose reports of self-weighing increased over time, so did their weight concern and symptoms of depression, which can be predictors of eating disorders, researchers found.

For men, as reported self-weighing increased, so did concern about weight, but other psychological variables did not change.

Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, and friends may want to ask about self-weighing to gather more information if a teen seems overly concerned with her weight, Pacanowski told Reuters Health by email.

“Self-weighing may be easier to talk about initially than self-esteem or depressive symptoms,” Pacanowski said. “From there, getting in touch with a healthcare provider would be the next step.”

Obesity-prevention programs should avoid worsening body dissatisfaction and weight concern by understanding how behaviors like self-weighing affect teens, she said.

Pacanowski also cautioned that the new study can't say whether self-weighing causes low self-esteem, or low self-esteem causes teens or young adults to weigh themselves more frequently.

The new study is also limited by the use of the subjective term "often" to gauge the frequency of self-weighing over time, said Jessica LaRose, a health behavior and policy researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who was not part of the new study.

“Thus, in terms of clinical implications for pediatricians, we can't determine using these data whether there is a specific threshold or frequency of self-weighing in this age group that could serve as a signal to explore mental health symptoms and well being,” LaRose told Reuters Health by email.

SOURCE: Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior, online November 9, 2015.

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Parents may not notice when children are overweight

(Reuters Health) - Many parents don’t realize when their children are overweight and so they fail to help the youngsters shed excess pounds, an Australian study suggests.

When researchers asked parents to report their child’s height and weight, the results suggested that about 16% of the kids were overweight and 6% were obese.

But when parents were asked if their child’s weight was healthy or unhealthy, only about 8% said they had overweight kids and only 0.2% reported an obese child.

And parents who didn’t recognize a weight problem in their children were less likely to take steps aimed at solving the problem, said study co-author Dr. Christina Pollard, of the Department of Health in Western Australia and Curtin University School of Public Health in Perth.

“The inaction based on misguided perception is of major concern,” Pollard said by email. “Taking action to improve diet and physical activity during childhood can help children avoid a lifetime of being overweight or obese.”

Pollard and colleagues reviewed data collected from 4,437 parents from 2009 to 2012 as part of the Western Australia Health and Wellbeing Surveillance System. Children ranged in age from five to 15.

Parents were asked: “Is your child underweight, normal weight, overweight or very overweight?” as well as “What are your intentions regarding your child’s weight?”

The majority of parents thought their child's weight was normal, regardless of whether or not this was true based on body mass index.

Every parent who thought their child was obese said they planned to help them achieve a healthy weight, as did about 61% of parents who said their child was overweight.

But when researchers looked at all the parents whose reports indicated that their children need to gain weight or lose weight – whether or not the parents realized it - the picture was worse.

Overall, just 23% of parents of obese children planned to help them lose weight, while more than half of them intended to do nothing.

At the other extreme, 70% of parents of underweight kids had no plans to intervene, the researchers reported online November 11 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

One shortcoming of the study its reliance on height and weight reported by parents, rather than measurements taken by clinicians or researchers, the authors concede.

It’s also possible that some parents didn’t truthfully report their perceptions about their child’s weight in the survey, noted Davene Wright, a researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington.

“Someone who recognizes that their child is overweight may not be willing to say so, even in an anonymous survey,” Wright, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Part of the problem may be that parents are worried about being labeled `bad parents.’ Additionally, parents of overweight children may hope that their child will `grow out of it’ or that their height will catch up to their weight,” Wright added.


Austral N Zealand J Publ Health 2015.

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