Washington, Jan 8 : A new study has found that there might be a link between the body mass index of teen girls and their standing on the social ladder.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Tobacco Control, found that teen girls who perceive themselves as being lower on the social ladder appear more likely to gain weight over the subsequent two years.
"Children who are overweight experience many health complications but perceive the most immediate consequence of overweight to be social discrimination. To lessen this health and economic burden, it is important to identify factors that contribute to excess weight gain and the development of obesity," the researchers said.
Adina R. Lemeshow, S.M., and colleagues from the Harvard School assessed questionnaires completed by 4,446 girls age 12 to 18 years in 1999.
Besides reporting their height and weight, television viewing habits, diet and other factors, the girls answered the following question: "'At the top of the ladder are the people in your school with the most respect and the highest standing. At the bottom are the people who no one respects and no one wants to hang around with. Where would you place yourself on the ladder."
Then, the researchers compared girls who placed themselves at five or above on the 10-rung ladder and those who ranked themselves at or below four.
They found that the average body mass index (BMI) among participants was 20.8 in 1999 and 22.1 in 2001. In that two-year period, 520 of the girls (11.7 percent) had at least a two-unit increase in BMI.
"After adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, baseline BMI, diet, television viewing, depression, global and social self-esteem, menarche, height growth, mother's BMI and pretax household income, adolescent girls who placed themselves on the low end of the school subjective social status scale had a 69 percent increased odds of having a two-unit increase in BMI during the next two years compared with other girls," the researchers said.
"It is important that researchers consider physical, behavioural, environmental and socioemotional factors that might contribute to the rising prevalence of overweight in adolescents.
"Previous research suggests that emotional factors such as depression and low self-esteem and self-perception contribute to the burden of overweight in adolescents.
"Our study contributes to this body of literature in that, to our knowledge, it is the first to prospectively evaluate the relationship between subjective social status in the school community and change in BMI, and our findings suggest that low school subjective social status may be an important contributor to increases in BMI in girls over time," they added.
The study is published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.