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Weight perceptions

People who believe they are overweight may gain weight

They found that participants who perceived their weight status as being overweight were at an increased risk of subsequent weight gai

People who recognise they are overweight or obese are more likely to put on weight than those who are unaware that they may be heavier than doctors would advise, according to research by the University of Liverpool. In a study, ‘Perceived weight status and risk of weight gain across life in US and UK adults’, published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers looked at the lives of 14,000 adults in the US and the UK through data captured in three studies: the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the UK National Child Development Study and Midlife in the United States (MIDUS).

Eric Robinson

“Realising you are an overweight individual is in itself likely to be quite stressful and make making healthy choices in your lifestyle more difficult. It is a tricky finding for public health intervention work,” said Dr Eric Robinson, from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. “You would hope that making a person aware they are overweight would result in them being more likely to adopt a healthier lifestyle and lose some weight. What is important is to tackle stigma in society. People with a heavier body weight have body image challenges. That is not surprising given the way we talk about weight as a society.”

They analysed data from time periods after the children had reached adulthood to find out their perception of their own weight, whether or not it was correct, and their subsequent weight gain over time. The UK study followed participants from 23 until 45, but the other two studies had shorter follow-up periods, of seven years and nine to ten years.

They found that participants who perceived their weight status as being overweight were at an increased risk of subsequent weight gain. This effect was observed irrespective of weight status at baseline and whether weight status perceptions were accurate or inaccurate. In the MIDUS sample, perceiving oneself as being overweight was associated with over-eating in response to stress and this mediated the relationship between perceived overweight and weight gain.

“But the way we talk about body weight and the way we portray overweight and obesity in society is something we can think about and reconsider. There are ways of encouraging people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle that don’t portray adiposity as a terrible thing,” he added.

The research also involved Michael Daly from the University of Stirling and Jeffrey Hunger from the University of California.

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