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Summary: Adolescent Girls Who Feel Unpopular Are More Likely to Gain Weight

Adolescent girls who placed themselves on the low end of the school subjective social status scale had a 69% increased odds of having a 2-unit increase in BMI.

  • According to an article published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, between 1999 and 2004, the prevalence of obesity in girls in the United States increased significantly from 14% to 16%. Children who are overweight experience many health complications but perceive the most immediate consequence of being overweight to be social discrimination. To lessen this health burden, researchers feel it is important to identify factors that contribute to excess weight gain and the development of obesity. For this study, the researchers wanted to determine whether subjective social standing in school predicts a change in body mass index (BMI) in adolescent girls during a 2-year period. More than 4,000 girls with the average age of 15 participated in the study. Therefore, the girls involved in the study were still growing and all of them gained some weight during the course of the study. Perceived popularity was also measured by how the girls responded to a question of where they would place themselves on a 10-rung ladder to represent the school community. For this scale, the adolescent girls place themselves on the ladder according to where they believe they stand in relation to their classmates. Those who believed they were unpopular gained more weight over the two-year period than the girls who viewed themselves as more popular. Those who rated themselves low in popularity were 69% more likely than other girls to increase their body mass index by two units, which is the equivalent of gaining about 11 excess pounds. Girls who put themselves on a higher level of popularity also gained some excess weight but only about an average of 6˝ pounds. On average, both groups of girls fell within weight ranges that were considered normal. However, the researchers noted that a gain of two BMI units over two year’s time is more than the typical weight gain for adolescent girls. The results of the study led the researchers to conclude that higher subjective social standing in school may protect against obesity in adolescent girls.1

1Subjective Social Status in the School and Change in Adiposity in Female Adolescents, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Vol. 162, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 23-28.

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