London: Normal weight teens who perceive themselves as fat are more likely to grow up to be overweight, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that perceiving themselves as fat even though they are not may actually cause normal weight children to become overweight as adults.
One explanation may be related to psychosocial stress, which can be associated with gaining weight around the waist. Under this scenario, the psychosocial stress related to having (or not having) an ideal body type, along with the perception of oneself as overweight, can result in weight gain.
"Another explanation may be that young people who see themselves as fat often change their eating habits by skipping meals, for example. Research has shown that dropping breakfast can lead to obesity," Koenraad Cuypers, a researcher from the University said in a statement.
Additionally, following a diet that you cannot maintain over time will also be counterproductive, since the body strives to maintain the weight you had before you started the diet.
The researchers checked whether physical activity made a difference in the relationship between perceived and actual obesity. But they found that exercise could not compensate for the negative effect of feeling overweight at a young age.
The data was taken from the Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT). The health survey Young-HUNT1 was conducted from 1995-1997 and included 1196 normal weight teenagers of both sexes.
Participants were later followed up in the Young-HUNT3 study, from 2006-2008, when they had grown to be between 24 and 30 years of age.
Half of the participants still had normal weights as adults.
The data showed that 59 per cent of the girls who had felt fat as a teen became overweight in adulthood, as measured using body mass index, or BMI.
If waist circumference was used as the measure of obesity, then the percentage of teens who initially perceived themselves as fat and later became overweight as adults was 78 per cent.
In contrast, 31 per cent of the girls who did not consider themselves fat during adolescence were found in the follow-up study to be overweight as measured using BMI. That number was 55 per cent as measured by waist circumference.
Normal weight teens who rated themselves as fat in the initial HUNT study had a BMI in the follow-up HUNT study that was on average 0.88 higher than those who did not. They were also on average 3.46 cm larger as measured around the waist.