MONDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Almost one-quarter of young
women who are overweight actually perceive themselves as being
normal weight, while a sizable minority (16 percent) of women at
normal body weight actually fret that they're too fat, according to
a new study.
The study found these misperceptions to be often correlated with
race: Black and Hispanic women were much more likely to play down
their overweight status compared with whites, who were more apt to
worry that they weighed too much (even when they didn't).
Although the study looked mostly at low-income women attending
public-health clinics in Texas, the findings do mirror other
studies in different populations, including a recent Harris
That survey found that 30 percent of adult Americans in the
"overweight" class believed they were actually normal size, while
70 percent of those classified as obese felt they were simply
overweight. Among the heaviest group, the morbidly obese, 39
percent considered themselves merely overweight.
The problem, according to study lead author Mahbubur Rahman, is
the "fattening of America," meaning that for some women, being
overweight has become the norm.
"If you go somewhere, you see all the overweight people that think they are normal even though they're overweight," said Rahman, who is assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMBG).
In fact, "they may even be overweight or normal-weight and think
they are quite small compared to others," added study senior author
Dr. Abbey Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary
Research in Women's Health at UTMBG.
The new findings are published in the December issue of
Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The study looked at more than 2,200 women who had arrived at a
public-health clinic for reproductive assistance, such as obtaining
According to the study authors, more than half of these
reproductive-age women (20 to 39 years), who were the subject of
this trial, were above a normal body mass index (BMI). An even
higher proportion of black Americans (82 percent) and Mexican
Americans (75 percent) were overweight or obese.
Women were classified into one of four groups: "overweight
misperceivers," meaning overweight women who thought they were
normal-weight or even underweight; "overweight actual perceivers,"
who accurately perceived their size; "normal-weight misperceivers"
who worried they were too heavy; and "normal-weight actual
perceivers," meaning those whose perceptions were in sync with the
According to the study, 23 percent of overweight women saw
themselves as being smaller than they were, while 16 percent of
normal-weight women worried they were too big.
Race seemed to play a role in self-perceived weight. Among
overweight women, 28 percent of blacks and about 25 percent of
Hispanics considered their weight within the normal range, compared
to 15 percent of overweight white women. The trend was the opposite
among normal-weight women, with more whites (16 percent) believing
they were fat, compared to just 7 percent of blacks.
Women who had more education and surfed the Internet were more
likely to be in tune with their actual body size, the researchers
Mistaken notions of one's weight status can have implications
for behavior, and perhaps health, the researchers noted. For
example, women who were overweight but thought they were normal
size were less likely to try to lose any excess weight by dieting
or other means. On the other hand, women who saw themselves as
fatter than they were, were more likely to use diet pills or
diuretics, to induce vomiting or to smoke cigarettes, often as ways
to control or lessen their weight.
"Unfortunately, women can't do anything to lose weight if they don't perceive themselves as overweight. It does start there," said Keri Gans, a registered dietician based in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "If they don't perceive themselves as overweight, they're not going to adopt healthy behaviors to lose weight and prevent disease. Meanwhile, the normal-weight people who don't recognize they're at normal weight are engaging in behaviors that put them at risk for illness."
Women need to be aware of what "normal" actually is, in terms of
numbers. And weighing yourself isn't the only way, and may not even
be the best way, to monitor creeping weight gain, Gans said.
"I don't think the only way to maintain body weight is to weigh yourself," she said. "You know when your pants are too tight. You don't need a number to tell you that."
To check your BMI, head to the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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