Why a Realistic Body Image is Important for Teens

From flawless actresses to pin-thin models, our young and impressionable daughters are bombarded by images of "perfect" girls on a daily basis, and for those of us who assume that just because our child maintains a healthy weight they're not at risk for body-image issues or depression, a recent study says that we should think again.

In the study, reported in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Penn State sociologists found that adolescent girls who are not overweight, but think they are, are at a greater risk for depression than girls who are overweight and know it. The group looked at data gathered from over 6,000 girls, which included their actual weight and whether they thought they were under, over or about a healthy weight, and a questionnaire that indentified depressive symptoms.

"Society emphasizes healthy body image, but it also equates thinness with beauty," said Michelle L. Frisco, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Demography, who conducted the study. "These mixed messages may produce weight pessimism that is distressing for adolescents."

I think it's particularly interesting that overweight girls weren't at risk when they realistically assessed their own weight. Turns out, knowing their body is most important, no matter what weight category girls fall into.

So what can we as parents do to help foster an accurate perception of body image for our children? First, Frisco suggests using a BMI percentile calculator to determine whether the child’s weight is in a healthy range, since many parents don't even know. “This can help parents show their children tangible evidence that their weight is in a normal range, or that they may be overweight and need to consider losing weight to protect their physical health.” Second, Frisco suggests looking in the mirror, since how you perceive your own body and weight, and your behavior in regard to it, can have a big impact on your child.  “Research  finds that a mother's body image and attitudes influence their daughter's body image and weight attitudes," she says. "Thus, mothers can serve as great role models for their daughters with respect to accepting their bodies.”

How do you help foster a healthy body image for your children? Chime in below.

Like this? Read these:
- 6 Tips for Nurturing a Healthy Lifestyle for Your Child
- Are Parents of Overweight Toddlers in Denial?
- How to Tell if Your Child is Being Bullied

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