According to new research by Mir M. Ali, an economist at the FDA’s Office of Regulations, Policy and Social Science, it’s because they’ve grown up around overweight parents and peers and therefore think their overweight status is, well, normal. The paper, coauthored with Aliaksandr Amialchuk and Francesco Renna, is called “Social Network and Weight Misperception Among Adolescents,” and is forthcoming in the Southern Economics Journal. From the abstract:
It is recognized that public health interventions targeted towards changing lifestyle behaviors to reduce overweight is a considerable challenge. It is important that individuals recognize their overweight status to be a health risk in order for an effective change in lifestyle behaviors to occur and growing evidence suggest that actual weight and perception of weight status often do not match especially among adolescents. In this paper, we explore the extent to which adolescents that are exposed to overweight parent and peers are likely to misperceive their weight status. Using data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents we estimate instrumental variable models with school level fixed effects to account for bi-directionality of peer influence and environmental confounders. Our results indicate that individuals who live in an environment that exposes them to overweight/obese parent and heavier peers are more likely to misperceive their weight status and think of themselves to be of lower weight than they actually are. Our analysis also revealed differential effect by gender and type of peers.