Exploring the Association Between Youth Body Mass Index (BMI) and Trait Self Esteem, and the Potential For Mediation By Perceptions of Weight-Based Teasing



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As the prevalence of youth obesity grows exponentially, so too does the concomitant threat to psychological and physical health posed by weight-based teasing. Extant research demonstrates empirical support for the inverse association between weight status and self-esteem in youths, however, the role of teasing as an underlying mechanism or risk factor has yet to be empirically tested. The purpose of the present study was to add to the literature by examining the inverse association between youth weight status and self-esteem, as well as explore one potential mechanism behind this association: youths’ perceptions of weight-based teasing. 74 youths (53% female, 47% Male, M age = 13.74, SD = 1.49) recruited from a STEM focused summer program provided height and weight measurements (in order to compute BMI percentiles) and completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, as well as the Perceptions of Teasing Scale. The current study did not find a significant inverse association between youth weight status and self-esteem levels, nor did it provide evidence to suggest that youth’s perceptions of weight-based teasing mediated this association. However, exploratory analysis did reveal a significant indirect effect of youths’ total perceptions of teasing on the association between weight status and self-esteem. These findings add to the literature by suggesting that increased weight status is associated with increased total perceptions of teasing, which in turn is associated with decreased levels of self-esteem in youths. Further, weight-based teasing may be a necessary, but not sufficient condition to explain the influence of teasing on the association between weight status and self-esteem in youth. Given these findings, future research should utilize a larger sample size to examine these questions longitudinally, in an effort to assess the causal effect of weight status and perceptions of teasing on self-esteem, and explore the consequences of this mechanism on psychosocial outcomes into adulthood.

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Youth, teasing, Body mass index (BMI), weight status, self-esteem