Objective: To investigate weight perception, dieting and emotional well being across the range of body mass index (BMI) in a population-based multiethnic sample of early adolescents.
Design: Cross-sectional population-based survey.
Subjects: In total, 2789 adolescents 11-14 years of age from three highly deprived regional authorities in East London, in 2001.
Measurements: Data were collected by student-completed questionnaire on weight perception, dieting history, mental and physical health, health behaviours, social capital and sociodemographic factors. Height and weight were measured by trained researchers. Overweight was defined as BMI > or =85th centile and obesity as BMI > or =98th centile. Underweight was defined as BMI< or =15th centile.
Results: In all, 73% were from ethnic groups other than white British. Valid BMI were available for 2522 subjects (90.4%) of whom 14% were obese. Only 20% of overweight boys and 51% of overweight girls assessed their weight accurately. Accuracy of weight perception did not vary between ethnic groups. In all, 42% of girls and 26% of boys reported current dieting to lose weight. Compared with white British teenagers, a history of dieting was more common among Bangladeshi, Indian and mixed ethnicity boys and less likely among Pakistani girls. Self-esteem was not associated with BMI in girls but was significantly lower in obese boys than those of normal weight (P=0.02). Within ethnic subgroups, self-esteem was significantly lower in overweight white British boys (P=0.03) and obese Bangladeshi boys (P=0.01) and Bangladeshi girls (P=0.04), but significantly higher in obese black African girls (P=0.01) than those of normal weight. Obese young people had a higher prevalence of psychological distress (P=0.04), except among Bangladeshi teenagers, where overweight and obese young people had less psychological distress than those of normal weight (P=0.02). Birth outside the UK was associated with reduced risk of obesity in girls (P=0.02) but not with history of dieting, weight perception or psychological factors in either gender.
Conclusion: High levels of current dieting for weight control and inaccurate perception of body mass are common across all ethnic groups. However, dieting history and the associations of obesity with self-esteem and psychological distress vary between ethnic groups. Interventions to prevent or treat obesity in black or minority ethnicity groups must consider cultural differences in the relationship between body mass, self-esteem and psychological distress.