Body-size-body-satisfaction

Body size & body satisfaction

Many people in New Orleans are not satisfied with their body size with more than half of those in a recent study desiring a body smaller than their own, according to a Tulane Prevention Research Center study published in Health Education & Behavior. Additionally, most people underestimated their actual body size.
“A person’s perception of themselves has important implications for personal health,” said study author Jeanette Gustat, an investigator with the Tulane PRC and a clinical associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “Low body satisfaction has been linked to health issues, such as eating disorders on one end of the spectrum, but also a lack of perceiving the risk of chronic diseases related to obesity on the other end.”
There is a relationship between body size satisfaction and life satisfaction and depression. The more people are dissatisfied with their body, the more likely people are to be depressed, Gustat said. Conversely, people satisfied with their body are more likely to be physically active and have a healthy body mass index (BMI).
Researchers at the Tulane PRC surveyed nearly 500 New Orleans adults in 2006 – the vast majority (94%) of which were Black residents between the ages of 18-70. The survey asked questions about their ideal body size and their actual body size using an illustration showing a scale of different body sizes to avoid using words like “obese” and “overweight.” When people chose the same figure for both their actual and ideal body size, they were seen as satisfied with their body size.
Less than half of survey respondents (44%) correctly chose an illustration that was the same size as their BMI would indicate. More people underestimated their size than overestimated their body size. Body satisfaction, choosing the same figure from the scale to represent both actual and ideal body size, was low. Only 42% chose the same figure to represent both. Over half (51%) desired a body size smaller than their actual body size.
Overall, the study found those who overestimate their body size, those with an education beyond high school, and those who were motivated to be physically active to lose weight were less likely to be satisfied with their bodies. Conversely, having a lifestyle that includes physical activity – such as walking and bicycle riding as part of an active lifestyle without a motivation to lose weight – was found to be the key to satisfaction with body size. Also, men were more likely to be satisfied with their body size than women.
Tulane PRC researchers found that the Black participants in this study identified an ideal body size in the normal weight category and desired a smaller ideal than their actual size. This differs from other studies that found Blacks accepting of a larger body size above the normal weight category. The correct perception of a healthy body size may motivate individuals to make healthy behavior changes.
“It is important for people to be aware of what a healthy body size looks like,” Gustat said. “Our findings show that people misperceive their weight status. That can have serious health implications because obesity is related to so many serious and costly chronic diseases. Individuals are not likely to change behaviors if they do not see a problem.”
The survey was part of the Partnership for an Active Community Environment project, led by the Tulane PRC and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Tulane PRC staff
June 2016

(Photo: A body image illustration is used to survey people about their perceived body size and body size satisfaction. Illustration citation: Stunkard, Sorensen, & Schulsinger. 1983. Use of the Danish Adoption Register for the study of obesity and thinness. Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease, 60, 115-20.)

Topics:   community health , obesity , physical activity

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