Young women interested in maintaining or improving health and fitness should pay closer attention to what’s happening to their bodies.

A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health (2011; doi:10.1089/jwh.2011.2982) claims that many young women may be unaware that they have gained weight—even as much as 11 pounds. The study recruited 608 “young” women (exact ages were not reported) who were asked to self-report perceptions of their weight every 6 months for 36 months. The researchers also measured actual weight (along with other details) to determine the accuracy of those perceptions. Women who attended a minimum of two follow-up visits were included in the final analysis; 466 met this criterion, yielding a total of 1,744 follow-up observations over the 36 months.

“In total, 44%, 30%, 19%, 12% and 8% observations had at least 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 kilogram(s) weight gain in 6 months,” the study authors reported, “while 59%, 67%, 73%, 78% and 85% of women [who had gained weight] accurately recognized it, respectively.” Perceptions were not uniform among different races: black women were more likely to report weight gain than white women were.

“Inability to recognize weight gain is common among young women,” the authors observed. “Clinicians should provide patient-specific counseling to address the frequent inaccuracies [in recognizing] weight gain.”