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Teens who perceive themselves as overweight more likely to be obese as adults

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Teenagers who think they weigh more than they actually do may be more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, according to a study published in Psychological Science.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, researchers asked participants to rate how they viewed themselves in terms of their weight. They found that misperceptions were related to weight gain.

"Misperception is typically taken as a sign of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, but our research shows that it may also signal a long-term risk of obesity," said study author Angelina Sutin of the Florida State University College of Medicine.

Sutin's previous work revealed that teens who experienced bullying or discrimination from their peers about their weight were more likely to become obese. This current study suggests a teen's own perception could also shape his or her health later in life.

Researchers say misperception may turn into reality without active change

The risk for obesity may also be based in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Adolescents who misperceive themselves as being overweight may not take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy weight, because as they gain weight, they physically become what they have long perceived themselves to be," the researchers said.

The study sheds more light on the psychological factors that can influence obesity, especially in males. Research found that boys who perceived themselves as being overweight had an 80 percent higher risk of obesity later in life than boys who judged their weight accurately.

"We need a greater understanding of determinants at all levels, including the psychological determinants, to effectively address our current challenges with the prevalence of obesity," Sutin concluded.

Source: Association for Psychological Science