Being overweight and obesity during adolescence are worldwide public health problems. This study examined the relationship between actual weight, body image, and emotional and behavioral problems among Chinese adolescents.
A total of 3841 adolescents (age range, 11–16 years) from 5 Chinese cities were included in this cross-sectional study. All of the study participants were asked to complete questionnaires (including demographic features, strengths and difficulties questionnaires, pubertal development scale), and their height and weight were measured at the same time. Body image was measured in two ways: self-perceived weight and body satisfaction. The relationship between weight status and mental health was estimated by multivariate logistic regression for boys and girls.
Our study showed a difference by sex for prevalence of being overweight/obesity and body dissatisfaction among Chinese adolescents. Boys were more likely to be overweight or obese than girls (30.4% vs. 21.5%, p < 0.05), but girls were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies than boys (41.2% vs. 27.9%, p < 0.05). In the logistic regression, body image, not actually being overweight, was significantly associated with a higher risk of emotional and behavioral problems. Compared to perceived normal weight boys, boys who perceived themselves as underweight had an increased likelihood of emotional problems (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.73; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.16–2.57), conduct problems (OR = 1.73; 95% CI, 1.20–2.50), and total difficulties (OR = 1.50; 95% CI, 1.09–2.05). Compared to body satisfaction, body dissatisfaction was a risk factor for emotional problems (boys: OR = 2.80; 95% CI, 1.84–4.25; girls: OR = 2.18; 95% CI, 1.42–3.36), conduct problems (boys: OR = 1.87, 95% CI, 1.26–2.76; girls: OR = 2.79; 95% CI, 1.46–5.30), hyperactivity problems (boys: OR = 1.67; 95% CI, 1.09–2.55; girls: OR = 2.04; 95% CI, 1.13–3.69), and total difficulties (boys: OR = 2.03; 95% CI, 1.45–2.84; girls: OR = 2.30; 95% CI, 1.46–3.56).
Being overweight and obese during adolescence are very serious public health problems in China. Body image was a more substantial predictor for adolescent emotional and behavioral problems than actually being overweight/obesity.