Trends in the perceived body size of adolescent males and females in Scotland, 1990–2014

Ross David Whitehead, Alina Paula Cosma, Joanne Elizabeth Cecil, Candace Evelyn Currie, Dorothy Bruce Currie, Fergus Gilmour Neville, Joanna Catherine Inchley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives:This paper explores trends in Scottish adolescents’ body size perceptions and associated mental well-being outcomes.Methods:Data were collected on Scottish 11, 13 and 15-year olds by the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study between 1990 and 2014 (n=42,312). Logistic regression was used to examine changes in the prevalence of over- and underweight perceptions. Ordinal and linear regression was used to examine changes in the association between body perception and mental well-being.Results:Little change was observed in over- or under-weight perceptions between 1990 and 2014. However, relative to those perceiving their body as ‘about right’, those perceiving themselves as overweight reported decreasing confidence (all groups), decreasing happiness (11- and 13-year old girls) and increasing psychological symptoms (all girls and 15 year-old boys). Perceived underweight is associated with poor well-being, especially in males, but we present little evidence that this is a recent phenomenon.Conclusions:We present evidence suggesting that the influence of body image on adolescent mental health is increasing over time. This may play a role in the recently observed worsening of mental well-being in Scottish adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-80
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Public Health
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Body image
  • Body size perception
  • Overweight
  • Underweight
  • Adolescents
  • Mental well-being


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