Negative Body Image Linked to Obesity Among Adolescents

Girl looks in hand mirror while sitting in meadowNegative body image may increase the risk of obesity, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Though previous research points to depression as a cause of obesity, researchers found no correlation between depression and obesity when they introduced body image into their research, suggesting body image may be a more significant factor in obesity risk.

More than 10% of all teens and 16.2% of adolescent girls experience depression. About 31% of children and adolescents are medically classified as either overweight or obese.

How Body Image Mediates Obesity Risk

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Teen Health 2000 study, which surveyed Houston teens ages 11 to 17. Survey participants were asked to describe their bodies as skinny, somewhat skinny, average weight, somewhat overweight, or overweight. Researchers also took height and weight measurements and assessed whether participants had experienced depression in the last year. Participants with a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30 were classified as obese.

No matter how much they weighed at the time of the survey, teens who viewed themselves as overweight were twice as likely to be obese a year after the survey. Adolescent girls who believed they were overweight were three times more likely to be obese after a year had passed.

The survey did not directly ask how participants felt about their bodies, so some participants who saw themselves as overweight may have had a positive body image. Likewise, participants who viewed themselves as skinny might still have experienced body image issues.

Why Body Image Matters

The current study did not ask participants about weight-related behaviors, but previous research suggests body image can affect both mental and physical health. People who have a negative body image are more likely to engage in disordered eating and less likely to embrace healthy habits such as regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet.

The study’s authors encourage clinicians concerned about their patients’ health to focus on body image first, because addressing the connection between body image and weight may be lead to better outcomes.


  1. Major depression among adolescents. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Obesity rates & trends overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Study: Negative body image, not depression, increases adolescent obesity risk. (2015, November 6). Retrieved from

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  • EllieH


    November 16th, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    The real thing that we need to research is how the images that are put out by society as what is desired and that we should want to be, why those things are being allowed to be prevalent because it is those very messages that are causing all of the negative body image in the first place.

  • Timothy


    November 16th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    This is probably especially true with girls. They see the images and start to think that this is what they are supposed to look like but they have not quite figured out that hey, these girls are photo shopped and finished in a way that I shouldn’t ever feel like I have to be. But there you have it. Someone at the top making all of these rules for what we should or shouldn’t look like and for the erst of us for whom this is unattainable we are left feeling like we can’t measure up.

  • grace


    November 17th, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    I find that as a woman there are so many more messages out there aimed at us that tell us how we look and what we wear is wrong that you start to sort of give up on yourself. You think why bother with even trying and then you start shoving down those feelings of being inadequate with food. I think that for a long time I did this and now I see my own daughters doing the same things.

  • cole


    November 19th, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    I would also like to add that for those who have the worst problem with negative self and body image it can be even more difficult to break out of those feelings.

    Do you know how many of them are so ashamed of themselves that they would never even dream of walking into a gym to workout? That is the thing that we need to change, to make these places more open and inviting to people of all shapes and sizes.

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