Body image is a frequent subject of debate in the media, and can have serious issues, particularly for the young. A study by the University of Missouri- Columbia has found that a poor perception of one’s own appearance is linked to increased tobacco and alcohol use. While it is important for teens to stay active and stay at a healthy weight, a positive body image is also key. What steps can Americans take to ensure that body image (and overall health) in this group is improved?
Males and Females are Affected
The researchers of the study found that although females are disproportionately affected by negative body image, males, too, are impacted. Interestingly, the perceptions that lead each group to engage in risky behaviors are polar opposites. For girls, the perception that they are too large was the risk factor, while for boys, self-identification as being too thin was related to tobacco use.
Size isn’t the only factor that matters. For instance, girls who thought they were not attractive were more likely to smoke, yet those who thought they were “very good looking” were more likely to binge drink. The researchers believe this is because popularity per se is linked to increased alcohol use. They also recommended that health providers, schools, and parents worked to stop body shaming – a practice that can affect not only those who perceive themselves positively.
Body Shaming and Additional Health Risks
Many studies have shown the far-reaching effects that body shaming can have. One, by scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that ‘fat shaming’ in particular takes its toll on health, increasing the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease. As noted by Rebecca Pearl lead researcher, “There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health. We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.”
Once again, researchers pointed out that stopping body shaming is something that parents, health care providers, and society as a whole should battle together. Doctors, in particular, should discuss issues such as weight sensitively kindly, without judgement or prejudice. Doing otherwise can elevate (stress hormone) cortisol levels and inflammation, which are linked to heart disease.
Motivation vs Desperation
Rather than displaying judgement, those who are worried about a youth’s weight should help them find the motivation they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. Thus, diet, exercise, and stress busting activities can play an important role in keeping weight down. Parents who have weight issues can work alongside their children, adopting a healthier lifestyle. Adults who are battling high levels of obesity have a host of options these days, which can include surgical and non-surgical weight loss methods such as cryolipolysis (‘fat freezing’) which delivers results which are similar to liposuction without a single stitch. The key to long-term weight loss and maintenance is to focus on health rather than on fear about body shaming and criticism.
Negative Body Image Linked to Mental Issues
In addition to risking one’s physical health, having a negative body image can also increase the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and suicidality, as per research carried out at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown Medical School. This is particularly the case for teens, whose feelings about their own appearance are very central to their world. The researchers noted that interestingly, the majority of adolescents with weight/shape preoccupations were not actually overweight.
Body image is a delicate issue that needs to be approached with sensitivity, especially among adolescents, who can be more prone to body related concerns. The awareness of the impacts of body shaming should be fostered in schools, homes, and health care settings. Moreover, any issues regarding weight should be approached with sensitivity and with a view to motivating rather than shaming a child.