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Self-esteem and Body Mass Index from Adolescence to Mid-adulthood. A 26-year Follow-up



This study examined the developmental trajectories of self-esteem and body mass index (BMI) from adolescence to mid-adulthood and the way the association between self-esteem and BMI changed during a 26-year follow-up.


Participants of a Finnish cohort study in 1983 at 16 years (N = 2194) were followed up at ages 22 (N = 1656), 32 (N = 1471), and 42 (N = 1334) using postal questionnaires. Measures at each time point covered self-esteem and self-reported weight and height. Analyses were done using latent growth curve models (LGM) and difference scores.


In LGM analyses among females both the initial levels (r = −0.13) and slopes (r = -0.26) of the self-esteem and BMI trajectories correlated negatively. Among males, there were no significant correlations between self-esteem and BMI growth factors. The association between increasing BMI and decreasing self-esteem among females was strongest between ages 22 and 32 (r = −0.16), while among males, increases in BMI and self-esteem correlated positively (r = 0.11) during that period. Among females, cross-sectional correlations between self-esteem and BMI showed an increasing trend (p < 0.001) from age 16 (r = −0.07) to age 42 (r = −0.17), whereas among males negative correlation (r = −0.08) emerged only in mid-adulthood at age 42.


Among females, higher and increasing BMI is associated with lower and more slowly increasing self-esteem. This association is not restricted to adolescent years but persists and gets stronger in mid-adulthood. Among males, associations are weaker but indicate more age-related differences. The results highlight the need for interventions that tackle weight-related stigma and discrimination, especially among women with higher body weight and size.

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The study was supported by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg’s Foundation, and the Finnish Doctoral Program for Social Sciences.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Olli Kiviruusu.

Ethics declarations

The study protocol has been approved by the Ethics Committee of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland. Participants were informed of the purposes of the study and that participation was voluntary, and they indicated their consent by answering the survey questionnaire.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Kiviruusu, O., Konttinen, H., Huurre, T. et al. Self-esteem and Body Mass Index from Adolescence to Mid-adulthood. A 26-year Follow-up. Int.J. Behav. Med. 23, 355–363 (2016).

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  • Self-esteem
  • Body mass index
  • Weight status
  • Developmental trajectory
  • Prospective cohort study