Size Matters: Women Misperceive Body Size

Body Size Woman

Is your perception of your own body weight accurate? With overweight and obesity riddling the nation, a recent study found that almost one quarter of overweight women thought they had a normal weight. Lots of thin women annoyingly complain about “feeling fat.” However, the study found 85% of normal weight women usually know they are not actually overweight.

The researchers compared the actual weight classification (normal, overweight, obese) of a group of women to what the women thought they were. The 2,224 women were 18 to 25 years of age. BMI (body mass index), a typical way to measure body fat based on the person’s height and weight, was used to classify the women into one of the three categories. Normal weight is a BMI 18.5 – 24.9, overweight is 25 – 29.9 and obese is 30 or higher.

Of the normal-weight women, 16% thought they were overweight. White and Hispanic women were more likely than the African-American women to misclassify themselves. Of the overweight and obese women combined, 23% thought they had a normal weight (36.8% of those who were overweight and 10.5% of those who were obese). Hispanic and African-American overweight/obese women were more likely than white women to classify their weight as normal, when in fact they were overweight. This is a cause for concern because African-American women have the highest rates of overweight and obesity in this country at approximately 80%. Mexican-American women are not far behind with about 75% who are overweight or obese.

Of further concern is that normal weight women who thought they were overweight were also more likely to engage in some unhealthy weight-related behaviors, such as smoking, skipping meals and using diet pills, powders, or liquids to lose weight. The researchers pointed out that these unhealthy habits could possibly lead to further problems such as weight gain, eating disorders, inadequate nutrition, and having depressive symptoms.

The fact that so many of these overweight and obese women considered themselves at a normal weight is startling considering the nation’s struggle to fight overweight and obesity. If women don’t think they are overweight or obese to begin with, what would motivate them to lose weight? Hopefully, in light of this study, doctors and obesity outreach programs will do more to educate the public on what classifies someone as overweight or obese, so that more women will understand their increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. To determine your BMI, you can use this calculator and read our previous article on what that BMI really means.

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