This paper aims to draw together research which links the moral panic about the “adipose” body during the first five years of the millennium to the worsening mental health of US teens. Noting the way medical advocacy biased the news coverage in the quality press in the UK, the USA and Canada through its emphasis on weight gain in child and youth populations, it reviews evidence of a relationship between eating disorders, body dissatisfaction and the mental health of teens.
Building on research which suggests that teens ' misperception of their body can impact their mental health, the paper proposes reflexive embodiment, defined as the way an individual interprets and evaluates their own body morphology in relationship to the medical profession’s articulation of norms for weight classes, as a new construct for exploring the impact of the medical debates about obesity.
Using data sets from the US Youth Risk Behavior Survey gathered in 2001 and 2007 to compare both weight status and weight class accuracy, the study finds evidence that teens ' perceptions of their bodies have changed more than their actual weight. Noting a complex relationship between teens ' misperception of their weight status and mental health risks associated with depression and suicide, the paper explores ways that the medical stigmatization of the adipose body, and the ensuing consequences of gendered weight bias, have consequences for teen well-being.
This case study only provides an exploratory analysis of an hypothesis suggested by the theory of reflexive embodiment.
Refocus health professions on the mental health of teens.
Evidence of health implications of reflexive embodiment adds to a growing critique of medicalization of adipose body morphology.
The analysis of data contributes to a growing concern about medical stigmatization of “fat” bodies as unhealthy.
Kline, S. (2015), "Moral panic, reflexive embodiment and teen obesity in the USA: a case study of the impact of ‘weight bias’", Young Consumers, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 407-419. https://doi.org/10.1108/YC-12-2014-00495Download as .RIS
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