A study by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School, has found that overweight Blacks are two to three times more likely than heavy Whites to say they are of average weight — even after being diagnosed as overweight or obese by their doctors.
Weight “misperception” was most common among Black men and women, and also was found among Hispanic men (but not women) compared to Whites. The findings appear in the current online issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Analyses of data show that the prevalence of misperception actually has increased among Blacks. “During this period we’ve seen rapid gains in obesity,” says Dr. Gary G. Bennett, the lead author of the study. “We think it’s a considerable problem that this is still not resonating among Blacks and other minorities.”
The study analyzed data on 6,552 overweight and obese men and women who participated in surveys between 1999 and 2002. Included in the surveys were data on height, weight, body mass index, whether they had been diagnosed as overweight by a doctor and responses to the question, “Do you consider yourself now to be overweight, underweight or about the right weight?”
A recent Centers for Disease Control report indicates that 34 percent of all Americans are overweight — defined as having a Body Mass Index of 25.0 to 29.9. An additional 30.5 percent are obese, defined as having a Body Mass Index of 30.0 or higher. Bennett says less pressure exists in the Black community for people to lose weight because of a cultural acceptance of higher body weights and rounder body shapes.
“We think that misperception can be very useful when it comes to protecting people against overly stringent body image ideals and eating disorders,” says Bennett. “But it’s a problem when people fail to realize the health consequences associated with obesity.”
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