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Keywords:

  • adolescents;
  • assets model;
  • body image;
  • cross-sectional study;
  • salutogenesis;
  • secondary data analysis

Abstract

The increasing impetus to provide an effective response to childhood obesity has generated a corresponding concern that weight management interventions may lead to emotional problems among young people, notably in relation to the development of a negative body image. However, currently the processes and factors that contribute to the acquisition of body image among young people is poorly understood. Drawing on salutogenic theory, this paper employs an assets-based approach that focuses on health promoting and protective factors to identify how young people may create or sustain positive body images. Secondary data analysis was undertaken from the WHO Health Behaviour in School Aged Children Study. During the spring term of 2002, information was collected from 6425 English adolescents aged 11–15 using a self-administered questionnaire. The data were analysed using stepwise multinomial logistic regression to determine which factors were associated with positive body image; a total of 2898 students were included in the final analysis. Adolescents who self-identified as having a positive body image were more likely to report ease of talking with a father figure, feeling intelligent, perceiving that their family were well off and a belief that their teachers were interested in them as people. Body Mass Index, age, gender and living within a household containing a father were also significant predictors of body image. The discussion provides an exploration of how the construction of young people’s emotional health is in part linked with the attainment of a secure and positive body image. The implications for health promotion and educational programmes are then examined. By considering the assets, which support or sustain a positive body image during adolescence, obesity prevention programmes could be better tailored to meet the needs of young people. In the future, a salutogenic curriculum might provide an alternative to unsustainable levels of deficit led, targeted programmes.