Parents, teens underestimating weight

Obese teenagers and their parents often underestimate their weight, making them less likely to seek help or adopt a healthier lifestyle, an RMIT University study has found.

PhD student Leah Brennan, of RMIT’s School of Health Sciences, conducted the research that found parents and teenagers are unable to correctly classify adolescents’ weight.

The study, Measurement and Perception of Overweight and Obesity in Adolescents, was conducted on 63 overweight adolescents aged from 12 to 19 years. Using international body mass index (BMI) calculations, 17.5 per cent of participating adolescents were overweight and 82.5 per cent obese. The study showed that 72 per cent of the obese teenagers and 63 per cent of their parents thought they were overweight instead of obese.

“Intervention and prevention programs are unlikely to be effective if individuals do not recognise that they are at risk,” Ms Brennan said.

Those who underestimated their weight were less likely to initiate physical activity and eating behaviour changes, she said.

Ms Brennan said that rising rates of overweight and obesity, the intractability of these conditions in adulthood, and the associated negative physical and psychosocial consequences highlighted the need for early detection and treatment of overweight teenagers and obesity.

“Accurate identification of adolescent overweight and obesity is essential for early detection, prevention and treatment,” Ms Brennan said.

“However, research indicates that many adolescents, parents and health professionals are unable to correctly identify adolescent weight status.”

Ms Brennan said the findings highlighted the concern that overweight and obesity are now so common that they have become ‘normalised’.

The study demonstrated the need for increased measurement, feedback and public education regarding appropriate body weight, she said.

For more information please contact:
Leah Brennan 0419 884 956;
RMIT Public Affairs (03) 9925 2807

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