2. Department of Food and Environmental Sciences, Division of Nutrition, University of Helsinki, Finland.
3. Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Linkoping University, Sweden.
Background: Overweight perception has been shown to be important for health related adolescent behavior, particularly in girls. Body perception may be affected by bodily changes, especially changes visible for others. Female pubertal development is characterized by many physical changes, such as accelerated growth and altered body fat distribution. This study examined the role of appearance of female characteristics in the risk for overweight perception among healthy adolescent girls.
Methods: 220 girls, aged 11–16, provided self-reports on body perception and pubertal maturation before anthropometric measurements of height, weight, hip and waist circumference (WC). Logistic regression modeling was used to study the appearance of pubertal characteristics in relation to body perception.
Results: Of the 76 girls (35%) perceiving themselves as overweight, only 14 and 36 girls were overweight according to body mass index and waist circumference respectively. Girls reporting breast development and acne (n=144) were more likely to perceive themselves as overweight than girls who did not report this appearance (n=76). These findings persist after adjusting for overweight according to WC. Non-overweight (n=170) rather than overweight girls reporting characteristics (n=50) were at risk of perceiving themselves overweight.
Conclusions: Girls may confuse natural changes occurring during adolescent development with being overweight. It is therefore important to improve the understanding about the physical changes that normally occur during puberty along with the girls' own perception of these bodily changes among girls themselves, their parents, at schools, and other healthcare services.
Keywords: Adolescent girls, self-reports, body perception, female pubertal development, anthropometric measurements