Friday, October 25, 2013

2013 Herkimer County TAP: Teen Perceptions of Self and Weight

While the section of the Teen Assessment Project (TAP) report on teens and their well being covers a wide range of topics (body perception, depression, suicide ideation, etc.) this post is focused on their view view of their own bodies - namely in terms of weight and need for weight gain or loss. Why might this be important? Well according to this article citing the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, how teens perceive themselves when they look into the mirror can be a more significant factor in their risk of suicide than the number on the bathroom scale. The study found adolescents' personal perceptions of being too thin or too fat was associated with heightened risks for suicidal thoughts and attempts. So how did the youth participating int he 2013 Herkimer County TAP view themselves?

To begin with, nearly 30% of all teens saw themselves as overweight, up slightly from when this question was asked in 2009. And one in twenty (5%) said that they were "very overweight". While the majority of teens in 2013 still see their weight as “about right” (56%), this is lower than in 2009 when 60% said that they were about the right weight. 

Not surprisingly, females were a third more likely to see themselves as overweight than males. While one in four males (25%) thought of themselves as overweight, one in three (33%) of females said that they weighed more than they should.
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Interestingly, while more than half of all teens (56%) said that their weight was about right, a majority of respondents (50.4%) indicated that they were presently trying to lose weight. For girls this was nearly 2 out of every 3 (64%) ! So despite the fact that only three in ten teens said they were overweight, five in ten are trying to lose weight!

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So who are these teens that are trying to lose weight ? Well if we look at each of those that were overweight, versus those that say their weight is about right, versus those that are underweight, all three groups have components that are looking to lose weight. For example, among teens that they that their weight is "about right", despite this balanced view of their bodies, as many as 40% report that they are still trying to lose weight. Teens that said they were overweight, in comparison, were twice as likely to be trying to lose weight. Eighty-five percent of teens that see themselves as overweight are trying to reduce their weight. Even among the least likely group - underweight teens - as many as one in five (20%) said that they were dieting or doing something in an effort to lose weight. 

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And in each case, if you compare males and females in each grouping, girls are significantly more likely to be dieting, or trying to lose weight, than are males.

To see the complete 2013 TAP report (or any of the previous reports as well), visit the Planning Department's Human Service page.