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Q&A – Cora Araújo

17 Aug, 2010
Cora Araújo

Cora Araújo

What is the Pelotas birth cohort?
The 1993 Pelotas (Brazil) Birth Cohort Study tracked all the 5249 children born in the city of Pelotas, southern Brazil, during 1993. These individuals were visited on several occasions from birth to adolescence. The cohort was set up to evaluate the influence of prenatal, infancy and childhood exposures on health throughout their lifespan.

What was the aim of your study?
To compare adolescents’ self-perceived body image with their measured body size.

What were your findings?
Overall, two-thirds of the adolescents we met have a self-perception of their body image that agrees with their measured body size. However, a third of them either think they are too thin when this is not true, or too fat when this is not the case. Boys are more likely to wrongly consider themselves as being too thin, whereas girls are more likely to consider themselves as being too fat, even when their body size is adequate.

What impact did the parents have on this?
Parents’ perceptions were a key influence on how the adolescents saw their body image. When the parents had a skewed judgement of their kids’ body image, adolescents were more likely to also have a skewed opinion. This suggests that part of the reason why kids have a distorted view of their body size is their parents’ perceptions.

What are the implications of your findings for health education?
Parents need to be aware of what a healthy body size is. That way, they can help reassure their children that they are not too thin or too fat when that is not the case. Providing parents with information and guidance on these issues may aid this, and avoid parental views distorting a child’s body image. Additionally, it is important to highlight publicly that the bodies of high-performance athletes and supermodels are not necessarily examples of adequate and healthy body sizes.

How does this study compare to other studies done in Europe, the USA or elsewhere?
Our findings are similar to those observed elsewhere, particularly in high income countries, which suggest that teenage girls tend to visualise models and try to copy their body shapes. Similarly, teenage boys tend to visualise sports stars and try to build similar muscles. Distortions in adolescents’ body image are an important public health issue in the developed world, and an increasing problem in low- and middle-income countries. But little data on these issues are available outside high-income countries. Further studies like this are vital in filling this gap.

What do you do outside of work?
I like walking outdoors with friends and drinking chimarrão [a typical hot drink in Brazil] on the weekends with friends and family. I love being by the beach and usually go on vacation along the coast of the Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil.

Reference

Araújo C et al. Measured weight, self-perceived weight, and associated factors in adolescents. Rev Panam Salud Publica 2010;27:360-7.

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