Losing weight doesn’t always boost self-esteem

By Carrie Johnson Weimar O'Brien • Published: June 26th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Obesity and low self-esteem tend to go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to adolescents. A new study shows that even when the pounds come off, teenage girls won’t necessarily feel better about themselves or their bodies.

For the decade-long study, researchers at Purdue University followed more than 2,000 girls starting at ages 9 and 10. Based on their body mass trends, the girls were divided into three groups: normal weight, transitioned out of obesity and obese. The researchers also categorized the girls by race.

The researchers found the girls who transitioned out of obesity continued to see themselves as fat, even though their body mass was lower. Also, white obese girls had lower self-esteem than their normal weight peers, and the self-esteem level stayed flat even if they transitioned out of obesity.

Black teenage girls did show a difference in self-esteem. Once they transitioned out of obesity, their feelings about themselves climbed to the highest level of any of the groups of girls. However, both races continued to have negative body perceptions despite the weight loss.

Why is this important? Researchers say that if girls continue to see themselves as fat even after they have lost weight, there’s less motivation to continue to diet and exercise. This suggests mental health counseling may be needed as part of a successful weight-loss regime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children ages 12 to 19 are considered obese.

Unanswered questions remain. As the number of obese children continues to grow, will this have an effect on self-esteem? Is there greater acceptance for obesity today than there was 10 years ago, or is it counteracted by recent anti-obesity campaigns? The scientists say more research is necessary before drawing any conclusions.