It has long been known that, for teenage girls, the fact of being overweight can lead to social exclusion. However, a group of American researchers decided to look at the question from a different angle: does a female student’s perception of her own social status play a role in her weight? It would seem that this is actually the case.
In this study, researchers recorded the body mass index (BMI) of 4,500 female students between the ages of 12 and 18, and asked them to grade, on a scale of one to ten, their position in their school’s social hierarchy. Two years later, the researchers noted that all the girls had gained weight. This is normal and not surprising as they were still growing. However, the girls who had rated themselves at four or less on the “popularity scale” had gained more weight than the ones who had rated themselves higher. In fact, their risk of gaining excess weight was 70% higher. The average excess weight was of around 11 lbs or a two-point increase in BMI scores. Even though researchers adjusted the results according to multiple variables, the link between a girl’s perception of her popularity and her risk of gaining excess weight remained unchanged.
Therefore, social environment likely has an influence on the weight of young girls. A reassuring and safe environment in which young girls feel accepted could therefore have a positive influence on the health of teenage girls. Consequently, the authors of this study suggest that parents encourage their daughters to develop their social network, notably by participating in group activities.