Adolescents who think they are too fat seem to be worse off than their counterparts who are really obese, according to an extensive survey.
The Robert Koch Institute in Germany surveyed nearly 7,000 boys and girls between 11 and 17. They were asked about self-assessment, ranging from "far too thin" to "far too fat".
The survey, published in the German journal Deutsches Aerzteblatt International, established that about three quarters of adolescents were of normal weight. Yet, 55 per cent of girls and under 36 per cent of boys thought they were "too fat".
Only about 18 per cent of adolescents were actually overweight, while 7-8 per cent were underweight.
The quality of life is lower in obese adolescents. However, this correlates to a large extent with self-evaluation. If adolescents think they are "far too fat", they forfeit a lot of their quality of life, whatever their actual weight.
This is particularly marked with girls. On the other hand, if they consider their weight "just right", their quality of life is the same as if they were of normal weight, even if this is not true.
The proportion of adolescents who think they are overweight has been increasing more rapidly in recent years than the proportion of those who really are overweight.
In an accompanying editorial, lead researcher Johannes Hebebrand points out that adolescents are exposed to considerable social pressure to be thin.
He said it was remarkable that as many as 40 per cent of the subjects thought that their weight was right, in spite of the ideal of slimness and the stigma of being overweight.