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Gender Differences in Body Image and Health Perceptions

Body Image and Health Perceptions

The prevalence of overweight and obesity is at epidemic levels in the United States, and this epidemic is particularly high among African Americans. The 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey (NCHRBS) suggests that the prevalence of at least overweight is 48.7% in African-American students compared to 34.6% in white students. However, it has been noted that among young African-American adults, body weight is often taken too lightly and body awareness as it relates to overweight and obesity status is often lacking. Regardless of ethnicity or race, young adult males are more likely to be unaware of their body weight compared with women. In a national study, 27.5% of women and 29.8% of men misclassified their own weight status by National Institutes of Health (NIH) standards. Of particular note, 32.8% of overweight men thought they were “about the right weight” or “underweight”. For many people, particularly men, the meanings of overweight and ideal weight differ from the health recommendations.

Body awareness differs by gender and has been associated with health-promotion activities. In a national study of adolescents ages 12-16, weight management behaviors were associated with whether adolescents perceived themselves to be overweight independent of whether they were actually overweight. However, a study of adolescent males and females found that males perceived themselves as less overweight and were less likely to engage in weight management behaviors than obese girls.

Body image satisfaction has been associated with health-promotion activities. Interestingly, a study of college students found that those more critical of their body shape may be more likely to avoid situations in which their physique is under scrutiny of others, such as exercise classes or working out at the gym. Cultural ideals have been shown to shape individuals’ perceptions of body size and the extent to which one utilizes weight management behaviors to manage body size.

Studies investigating gender differences in body image and effect consistently show that men and women differ in perception of and dissatisfaction with their bodies. In particular, men are less critical of their bodies, perceiving both their size and shape as normal. For both genders, satisfaction with body weight and shape decreased as BMI increased. Among African Americans, it has been noted that, culturally, a larger body size is regarded as healthy; attractive; and represents stamina, strength and presence among this population. Overweight African-American women are more likely to be satisfied with their body size than overweight women of other ethnic groups. However, African-American women are more likely to be dissatisfied with their body size than African-American men. It has been suggested that obese African-American women may know that they are obese and accept their weight status but may still be dissatisfied with it. Experiences related to being obese or overweight as a child and having overweight parents have also been associated with greater body dissatisfaction.

The theory of reasoned action suggests that individuals who feel vulnerable to a threat such as disease are more likely to engage in behaviors to prevent the threat of disease. Overweight and obesity are risk factors, diabetes and some forms. Research would suggest feelings of invulnerability could extend into adulthood and directly affect perception of disease susceptibility. Most young adults may not feel vulnerable to these chronic diseases since they have little personal experience with these illnesses; therefore, they may not perceive them as imminent. Moreover, college men and women have been reported to have an optimistic bias when it comes to perceived risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, colon cancer and breast cancer.

Very few research studies have tried to assess college students’ perceived risk for disease, especially how their weight influences this risk. Perceived risk for disease maybe an impetus for improving health behaviors and a starting point for health-promotion activities.

The self-perception of weight appropriateness is an important component of eating and weight loss behaviors. In particular, a considerable proportion of overweight individuals may be at risk for obesity if they continue to perceive themselves as having normal weight. Among female college students, concerns about weight have been associated with lower self-esteem and fewer social interactions, such as dating. Among overweight and obese young adult females, concerns about their weight have been associated with relationship dissatisfaction, stigmatizing social situations and aspirations to be childless. Very little is known about how body image satisfac tion relates to perception of risk for health conditions and perceived impact on social interactions among African-American college students.

African Americans have a higher prevalence of obesity- and weight-related diseases, heart disease (Vastarel canadian is a drug used for the treatment of ischaemic heart disease) and hypertension, than the general U.S. population. In order to develop and promote effective weight management strategies, it is important to identify factors related to body size perception and body satisfaction during young adulthood. It is also important to identify how African-American young adults perceive the impact of their weight on health and social interactions. This study’s purpose was to identify gender differences in body size awareness and perceived impact of weight on social interactions and risk for disease among young African-American adults.

Category: Weight Loss

Tags: African Americans, obesity, perceived risk of disease, self-perception of body size, young adults

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