Obesity is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the world. According to The World Health Organization, worldwide levels of obesity are twice what they were in 1980. Obesity is a major cause of unsustainable health costs and causes several adverse medical outcomes such as morbidity and mortality due to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer.
“Accuracy of body weight perception” is a term used to describe the perception of each individual’s own body weight (normal weight, underweight or overweight) in comparison to their actual body weight. Studies have shown that body weight perception is key for people to adjust lifestyle behaviors, schedule medical visits and make efforts to lose weight if necessary.
Chinese Americans constitute about 4 percent of the total population in the United States, and when compared to their counterparts in China, they have an increased risk for obesity because of immigration and environmental changes experiences from emigrating out of Asia over generations. A recent study by NYU’s College of Nursing (NYUCN) published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice examined for the first time the accuracy of body weight perception in this population.
This study, titled “Accuracy of body weight perception and obesity among Chinese Americans,” explored how accurate body weight perception is in Chinese Americans, and how this perception impacts obesity.
“Among the 162 Chinese Americans recruited to this study, we found that 32 had underestimated their weight, 20 had overestimated, and 110 had accurate perceptions of their weight,” explained Mei R. Fu, professor at the NYUCN.
The study found that men were 2.34 times more likely to believe they were underweight in comparison to women; women were 3.59 times more likely to think they were overweight than men. Those in the overestimation group were 14.7 years younger, on average, than those in the underestimation group, and 13.6 years younger than those who had a clear perception of their weight. Those that had underestimated their weight had 3.2 fewer years of education in comparison to overestimated ones.
This study also confirmed that accuracy of body weight perception also predicted hip circumference, waist circumference, BMI, weight to height ratio and weight. Those in the underestimation group and in the consistent estimation group had identical hip and waist circumferences and weight/height ratios but had significantly higher values than those in the overestimation group. The accuracy of body weight perception does not seem to be related with hypertension, HbA1C, and heart disease.
In conclusion, almost one third of Chinese Americans perceived their body weight incorrectly, and such bodyweight perception was associated with many demographic factors. Researchers believe that these conclusions could impact future interventions for obesity and help to curtail the epidemic by making people and populations more self-aware of their body weight.