Self-Concept in Overweight Adolescents

Article excerpt

The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children, adolescents and adults appears to be increasing, both in Europe and the USA. (1-3) According to some research data, approximately 31% of children and adolescents (age 6-19 years) worldwide are overweight, while other studies state that 25% of the adolescent population (age 14-17) is overweight. (4,5) Figures are similar for the USA and Europe. (3)

Research in Croatia showed 41% of the study population 18-65 years of age to be overweight. (6) Although there are minor differences, all the studies we reviewed have shown significant proportions of overweight adolescents, with the prevalence increasing over the past 30 years. (1,7,8)

Together with increasing obesity in this population, it is becoming evident that stigmatisation of overweight adolescents is very common in many settings, including by family members, peers and even educators. (9)

Western culture encourages personal responsibility in many walks of life, including control of body weight. (9-13) Fowler cites a number of studies in the US reporting discrimination against obese adolescents, both by their peers and by others. (14) Obese adolescents are often excluded from the social, sport and other activities of their peer group. (12,13,15,16)

The intense psychological, emotional, intellectual and social changes that characterise adolescence make it an extremely vulnerable phase of development, during which numerous subconscious conflicts need to be resolved and both personal identity and adequate socialisation established. (10-13,16,17) Peer acceptance becomes of extreme importance, (16-18) and peer rejection and stigmatisation may have a profound impact on an adolescent's psychological status. (19) While belonging to the peer group promotes feelings of safety and securty, peer rejection (real or imaginary), may create feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. (16-18,20) Some studies have shown that obesity may be related to a deterioration in quality of life of adolescent girls. (16,19)

In Western culture, a slim female figure is seen as ideal. Research has shown that adolescent girls are becoming increasingly preoccupied by their body image and burdened with the beauty ideal imposed by the media and society. (11-13,21,22) Body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls may imply development of negative self-perception and self-evaluation, which can result in development of adolescent depression and eating disorders. (12,13,22-24)

The need to accept a body image that is changing radically from that of childhood is actualised in the adolescent period. (16-18) It has been established that in adolescence, popularity in the peer group becomes increasingly dependent on body image. It has also been found that more active adolescents have more positive self-concept. (16,18,25,26) While social relationships with others are very important in the development of self-concept, self-concept does not only result from independent self-evaluation and evaluation of real interactions with others, but also from symbolic interactions, or ideas about possible judgements of others. Also, in the development of self-concept not all people with whom the person has social relationships are equally important. There are 'significant others', defined as the most important individuals in this development process.

Self-concept is a multidimensional construct. It is defined as individual evaluation of cumulative successes and mistakes, as well as subjective evaluation of personal potential. (16) Potentials are not only descriptors of athletic or intellectual capabilities, but of physical characteristics as well. (16,18,20)

In 1962, Offer constructed the Offer Self-Image Questionnaire for Adolescents (OSIQ) for the purpose of systematic psychological assessment. (27,28) This self-descriptive questionnaire was intended to evaluate adolescent functioning in many dimensions, as adolescents may be well adjusted in some aspects of their world, while having adjustment problems in others. …