Adolescent body weight misperception and adult incident obesity


Sutin, A. R. & Terracciano, A. (2015). Adolescent body weight misperception and adult incident obesity. Annual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society. Savannah, GA.


Background: Adolescents of normal weight who misperceive themselves as overweight engage in both high-risk dieting practices and behaviors conducive to obesity that contribute to weight gain. We examine whether misperceived overweight in adolescence is associated with the development of obesity approximately 12 years later. Methods: During adolescence (mean age 16), participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) reported how they perceived their body weight (from very underweight to very overweight) and were weighed and measured by research staff. At the most recent Add Health assessment (mean age 29), participants were weighed and measured again. We tested whether adolescents who measured normal weight but misperceived themselves as overweight were at increased risk of becoming obese between the two assessments, controlling for sex, age, race/ethnicity, adolescent BMI, and adult education. Results: Across follow-up, 20% of the sample became obese. Participants who perceived themselves as heavier than their measured BMI in adolescence had a 40% increased risk of becoming obese between adolescence and young adulthood (OR=1.41, CI=1.21-1.63). This effect was surprisingly stronger among boys (OR=1.84, CI=1.40-2.43) than girls (OR=1.28, CI=1.07-1.54). Conclusion: Misperceived overweight in adolescence is a risk factor for incident adult obesity. This association may be mediated through unhealthy behaviors that are linked with risk of obesity (e.g., unhealthy dieting practices, sedentary behavior). There is also growing evidence that social stigmatization of body weight, such as weight discrimination, increases risk for obesity; our results suggest that the label does not need to be applied by someone else; self-stigmatization is just as powerful. Further, although research and practice usually focus on the consequences of body image for girls, the present research suggests that boys may be more vulnerable to distorted perceptions that contribute to adult obesity.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

Annual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society


Sutin, A. R.
Terracciano, A.

Year Published


City of Publication

Savannah, GA

Reference ID