Negative Body Image Increases Risk of Obesity in Teens

By Rick Naurert PhD
May 16th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
Negative Body Image Increases Risk of Obesity in Teens

New research discovers that negative body image significantly increases the risk of obesity regardless of whether youth have depression.

The follow-up study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health clarifies the relationship between depression, body image, and obesity.

“Our last study found that participants who were depressed were twice as likely to be obese six years later, implying a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and obesity.

In this new study, when body image was introduced, we found no association between major depression and obesity, meaning that body image is the mediating factor,” said Robert E. Roberts, Ph.D.

Roberts and his co-author examined data from a study called Teen Health 2000 (TH2K) which surveyed youth ages 11 to 17 in the Houston area. The youth were asked to describe themselves as skinny, somewhat skinny, average weight, somewhat overweight, or overweight. They were also measured for height, weight, and whether they had a major depressive episode in the last year.

For the study’s purposes, persons with a body mass index of 30 or more were considered obese.

Participants who perceived themselves to be overweight, regardless of how much they weighed, were twice as likely to be obese a year after they were surveyed. Young women in the group were three times more likely to be obese at the one-year mark.

Findings from the study support previous research that has indicated the profound impact of negative body image.

Inferior self-image is associated with greater psychological distress, more disordered eating, binge eating, and fewer health-promoting behaviors such as physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Indeed, study results suggest a person’s perception of their body is a factor that should be assessed.

“Clinically, addressing body image in depressed patients who are obese may improve outcomes,” said Roberts.

The study appears in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Teenager not wanting her picture taken photo by shutterstock.

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.