Weight Loss Doesn't Help Girls' Self-Esteem
Even after weight loss, teen girls may still perceive themselves as fat, new research says.
By Annie Hauser
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FRIDAY, March 23, 2012 —After overweight teenage girls win the battle with the scale, an even longer struggle may begin with the mirror, says a new study. Researchers at Purdue University found that weight loss does not guarantee that girls are going to feel better about themselves and their bodies, most likely because of the negative stereotypes and messages about obesity they encounter.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are currently obese. Since 1980, obesity rates among children and teenagers have almost tripled.
"We found that obese black and white teenage girls who transitioned out of obesity continued to see themselves as fat, despite changes in their relative body mass," said Sarah A. Mustillo, a PhD and lead researcher on the study in a . "Further, obese white girls had lower self-esteem than their normal-weight peers and their self-esteem remained flat even as they transitioned out of obesity."
For the study, researchers reviewed data from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study, which followed the weight of more than 2,000 black and white girls for 10 years, starting at ages 9 or 10. Based on their body trends, the girls were classified into three groups: normal weight, transitioned out of obesity, and chronically obese.
While self-esteem for the black girls transitioning from the obese to the normal-weight range did rebound, both races still had poor body image after weight loss. Researchers noted that the self-esteem for black girls was lower overall to begin with, and that mental health assistance during weight loss might be the key to rebounding every dieter’s body image.
“Understanding and addressing body image, identity and self-esteem issues could ultimately help keep the weight off,” Mustillo said in the same release. “Why keep dieting and exercising if you are still going to see yourself as fat?”
Helping teen girls boost their self-esteem can be tricky, but there are some simple strategies parents can try. If you think your teen needs a body image boost, try these strategies from the .
- Discuss self-image.Mayo Clinic experts say it’s important to talk to teen girls about body image and emphasize that different women have different body types. Ask her what she likes about herself, and explain what you like about her, too. When you’re discussing body image with your teen, use positive language, and avoid talking about “fat” or “thin.”
- Counter negative media messages.Because teens are constantly inundated with messages about body image from advertisements, the Internet, their peers, and more, encourage her to ask questions about what she sees. Point out examples of women who are famous for their achievements, not their appearances, to set a positive example, experts say.
- Praise achievements.Highlight your daughter’s special skills, efforts, and achievements, and emphasize that exercising her talents, whatever they may be, is more important than her appearance.
- Encourage healthy habits.Set a positive example for eating and exercising, and stress that you eat well and workout for your health, not just to look a certain way. Offer healthy meals and snacks at home, and involve your children in the process of selecting healthy foods.
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