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Teens' perceptions of body weight

Any intervention to persuade overweight adolescents to slim down carries the risk of inducing eating disorders in some. Deciding how to approach this difficult balancing act depends on how young people perceive their own weight. Clearly, they won't be motivated to lose weight if they don't think they are overweight to start with. Researchers from University College London used data from the Health Survey for England, which is designed to be representative of the English population (Jackson S et al. International Journal of Obesity 2015. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.126). Over 5000 adolescents aged 13 to 15 years had their height and weight reliably measured, and were asked to describe themselves as either ‘too light’, ‘about the right weight’ or ‘too heavy.’ Reassuringly, most (83%) of those of normal weight in both sexes correctly described themselves as ‘about right’, with only 11% of girls and 4% of boys thinking they were ‘too heavy’. More worryingly, only 60% of those classed as overweight or obese described themselves as ‘too heavy’. Girls were more likely to get it wrong (68% vs 53% in boys). Unfortunately there were too few very underweight young people to conclude anything useful, so this …

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