Register / Log In

Obesity's stigma lingers for teenage girls who attain normal BMI

White teenage girls with obesity who lose weight may benefit physically, but the weight change does not guarantee a boost to their self-esteem.

A new study has found that girls who attain normal body mass index (BMI) after being in the obese range continue to experience lower levels of self-esteem compared with teenagers who were never overweight or obese.

For the study, data was collected from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Growth and Health Study (NGHS). Researchers followed for 10 years the health and weight of 2,206 black girls and white girls, starting when they were aged 9 to 10 years. The girls were separated into 1 of 3 groups—normal weight, transitioned out of obesity, and chronically obese—based on their BMI trends during the 10-year period. Self-perception profiles were administered to participants every other year.

The findings showed a difference in self-esteem levels between races. Self-esteem for black girls transitioning from the obese to the normal range rebounded compared with white girls; however, both races continued to have negative body perceptions.

"We found that obese black and white teenage girls who transitioned out of obesity continued to see themselves as fat, despite changes in their relative body mass," said researchers. "Further, obese white girls had lower self-esteem than their normal-weight peers, and their self-esteem remained flat even as they transitioned out of obesity."

They suggest that the lingering self-esteem and self-image disadvantages associated with obesity exposure—even when weight is lost—reinforce the importance of tailoring sensitive, nonstigmatizing interventions for children.

The researchers note that the NGHS data set used for the findings is from the 1980s and 1990s and doesn't reflect today's higher obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 17% of American children aged 2 to 19 years are obese.

Go back to the current issue of the eConsult.

Increasing out-of-pocket prescription costs may be responsible for reductions in asthma medication use among children and more frequent asthma-related hospitalizations. What strategies can help you improve medication therapy adherence in your patients with asthma?

The presence of foul or strong urine odor is often taken as an indicator of urinary tract infection (UTI) in young children. A new study finds that parent report of malodorous urine increases the likelihood of infection among patients being evaluated for suspected UTI, but is the association strong enough to confirm a diagnosis?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) now affect 1 in 88 children in the United States and are almost 5 times more common among boys than girls, according to estimates based on a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Why are the numbers growing?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of pediatric chronic liver disease. New research has found that genetic variants are associated with increased susceptibility to fatty liver disease in children with obesity. What does this finding mean for your patients with obesity?