Is The Obesity Epidemic Messing With Kids' Minds?

Which is worse: Feeling fat? Or being fat? A survey by the Germany Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS) found that among 7,000 teenagers, more than half of the girls (and 36% of the boys) thought that they were "too fat," even though only about 18% of the kids were actually overweight. And the teens — especially the girls — who thought that they were "too fat" reported lower self-esteem and "quality of life." Reporting on this issue in the New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope writes: "At a time when much of the Western world is focusing on obesity problems, even teens who are at a healthy weight may develop a distorted body image." Even more troubling is how some kids act when they think they're overweight: The Times of London has a story about a boy named Zach, who is on a careful diet, works out for 45 minutes after school every day and does push-ups, sit-ups and crunches before bed every night. Zach is 10 years old. And still fits into the same clothes he wore when he was 8 and 9. Writes Siobhan Mulholland: "Not by any stretch of any fattist imagination could he be described as fat."

Clearly, the effort being made to fight the obesity epidemic is resulting in what Parker-Pope calls "collateral" damage. From commercials to music videos and magazines, the pressure to be thin is all around us, and it would seem few of us are immune. And interestingly enough, when this topic came up via e-mail at the Jezebel virtual HQ, everyone had something to say. "The more weight I lose the fatter i feel," one editor sighed. One editor wrote: "I've often thought that when I think I'm thin I'm actually thinner – like it's some psychological thing as in, if I think I'm thin my metabolism actually works harder. Which would explain why I'm so damn fat now after feeling so damn fat for months on end." Someone else added: "When I beat myself up for being gross and fat years ago I was actually 30 pounds thinner; now that I'm heavier I'm more forgiving of myself and less depressed." Someone else explained: "Getting super thin can fuck with your head. I'm naturally between 125-130. I was totally happy about that, until I got really depressed and got down to 117 without really trying. I was there for like, 9 months, and I realized, holy shit I can be skinny. Of course, when I was no longer depressed, I gained the ten pounds back. That's when I

started thinking I was fat."

It's no big secret that mental and physical health are linked. And as someone who has been thin and sad, fat and sad and fat and happy (never thin and happy) I often wonder about which is more important: Mental health or physical health? In a perfect world you wouldn't have to choose, of course. You'd reach optimal levels in both arenas and live happily ever after in a cottage under a rainbow. But if things keep going in this direction — where kids start dieting in middle school — aren't we going to have a mental health epidemic to go with the obesity one? (And, back to the earlier question: Which is worse? Feeling fat? Or being fat?)

'Feeling Fat' Is Worse Than Being It, German Study Finds [Science Daily]

Many Normal-Weight Teens Feel Fat [NY Times]

The danger of children who insist that they are fat [Times Of London]