Deviating From the Norm: Body Mass Index (BMI) Differences and Psychosocial Adjustment Among Early Adolescent Girls

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Objective To examine whether deviation from one’s ethnic group norm on body mass index (BMI) was related to psychosocial maladjustment among early adolescent girls, and whether specific ethnic groups were more vulnerable to maladjustment. Methods Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted on self- and peer-report measures from an ethnically diverse sample of sixth-grade girls (N = 2,636). Results African Americans and Latinas had a higher mean BMI than Asians and Whites. As deviation from their ethnic group BMI norm increased, girls reported greater social anxiety, depression, peer victimization, and lower self-worth, and had lower peer-reported social status. Associations were specific to girls deviating toward obesity status. Ethnic differences revealed that Asian girls deviating toward obesity status were particularly vulnerable to internalizing symptoms. Conclusions Emotional maladjustment may be more severe among overweight/obese girls whose ethnic group BMI norm is furthest away from overweight/obesity status. Implications for obesity work with ethnically diverse adolescents were discussed.

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