For Many Girls, Slimming Down Doesn't Help Self-Esteem

Teens who were formerly obese often still view themselves as fat, study finds

TUESDAY, April 3 (HealthDay News) -- Weight loss doesn't necessarily lead to a boost in obese teenage girls' self-esteem, according to a new study.

"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," study author Sarah Mustillo, an associate professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., said in a university news release.

"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," added Mustillo, who studies obesity in childhood and adolescence.

Mustillo and her colleagues analyzed data from a national study of more than 2,000 black and white girls in the United States who were followed for 10 years starting at ages 9 and 10.

Self-esteem among black girls who went from being obese to normal weight did rebound, although black girls had lower self-esteem to begin with, according to the study. Both black and white girls who lost weight continued to have negative body perceptions, the Purdue team found.

Researchers noted that the study did not prove that girls' self-esteem remained low because they continued to see themselves as overweight, Mustillo said. There could be other explanations for the girls' continuing low self-esteem in adolescence.

"Even so, providing mental health assistance during the weight-loss process could be a benefit," Mustillo said. "Understanding and addressing body image, identity and self-esteem issues could ultimately help keep the weight off. Why keep dieting and exercising if you are still going to see yourself as fat?"

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

About 17 percent of American children aged 2 to 19 are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines ways that teens can reach and maintain a healthy weight.

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