They watch TV programmes about obesity – which usually feature clinically obese people – and think they are OK, even though they are overweight and probably in danger of becoming obese.
Being obese puts people at increased risk of diabetes and increasingly of cancer (an estimated 18,000 cases a year).
When researchers from Cancer Research UK asked teenagers aged 13 to 15 if they were overweight or OK, 40% of those who were overweight or obese thought they were OK.
Obesity, which accounts for about a fifth of cancer deaths, is set to overtake smoking as the main cause of cancer.
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, said “Programmes about overweight people tend to show very obese people. Some teenagers who see these images probably think that is what an overweight person looks like so they might not realise if they are slightly overweight”.
Sarah Jackson, who led the study, said that parents often underestimate the problem putting it down to “Puppy fat“. Also growing levels of obesity are normalising overweight people as “normal”.
In the study only three-quarters of the teenagers had a bmi within the normal weight range (NB bmi is not the best measure). 20% were overweight and 7% obese.
80% thought they were the right weight, 7% that they were too heavy, and 10% that they were too light. Girls were more likely than boys to think they were too heavy.
Professor Jane Wardle from the Cancer Research UK Health BehaviourResearch Centre at UCL said “Young people who think they’re overweight when they’re not can sometimes develop devastating eating disorders, so we’re delighted that most of the normal-weight teenagers had a realistic view of their body size. But we need to find effective ways of helping too-heavy teenagers slim down and maintain a healthier weight”
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