Body-image awareness improves teen health: Study

People with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem.
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India TV Lifestyle Desk New Delhi June 23, 2017 18:06 IST

A new study, Adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: the influence of body image, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, says that the negative body image is associated with increased tobacco and alcohol use, with implications for both young men and women. Smoking and drinking is more common amongst the youngsters these days and the teenagers are mostly affected by this. The research also shows that people with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. 

The body image expert, Virginia Ramseyer Winter found that relationships between substance use and perceived attractiveness, with girls who believe they are very good looking being more likely to drink. It has been found that perceived size and attractiveness were significantly related to substance use. Adolescent girls who perceived their body size to be too fat were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco. While, the girls who thought they were not at all good looking were more likely to smoke and the girls who thought they were very good looking were more likely to binge drink.
While in case of boys, the researchers found that the boys who thought they were too skinny were more likely to smoke, and boys who considered themselves fat were more likely to binge drink.

In addition to body size, the researchers looked at the connection between perceived attractiveness and substance use. Ramseyer Winter suggests this is because attractiveness may be associated with popularity, which is related to increased alcohol use.

"We know alcohol and tobacco can have detrimental health effects, especially for teenagers. I wanted to see if the perception of being overweight and negative body image leads to engaging in unhealthy or risky substance use behaviours. Understanding the relationship means that interventions and policies aimed at improving body image among teenage populations might improve overall health," Ramseyer Winter said.

"While poor body image disproportionately affects females, our findings indicate that body image also impacts young males. For example, it's possible that boys who identified their bodies as too thin use tobacco to maintain body size, putting their health at risk," Ramseyer Winter added.

Ramseyer Winter and her co-authors, Andrea Kennedy and Elizabeth O'Neill, used data from a national survey of American teenagers to determine the associations between perceived size and weight, perceived attractiveness, and levels of alcohol and tobacco use.

To improve body image awareness, Ramseyer Winter suggested that parents, schools and health providers need to be aware of body shaming language and correct such behaviour to help children identify with positive body image messages. Body shaming language can affect teenagers who have both positive and negative perceptions of themselves.

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