Forty Percent of Overweight Women Don't Know It

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According to a new research study, nearly four in 10 overweight women believe themselves to be thinner than they really are. The study’s authors, Mahbubur Rahman and Abbey Berenson, surveyed 2,224 women between 18 and 25 years old from a variety of ethnicities.

Using the subjects’ calculated Body Mass Index (BMI) and self perception of weight, overweight and normal-weight women were divided into four categories: overweight misperceivers (overweight women who described themselves as underweight or normal weight), overweight actual perceivers (overweight women who described themselves as overweight), normal-weight misperceivers (normal-weight women who described themselves as overweight), and normal-weight actual perceivers (normal-weight women who described themselves as normal weight or underweight).

The BMI was used instead of self-reporting measures because many people lie about their weight.

The researchers found that 36.8 percent of the overweight women (and 10.5 percent of the obese women) believed themselves to be underweight, or of normal weight. Overweight and obese Hispanic and African American women are significantly more likely than Caucasian women to believe themselves to be thinner than they are.

According to Dr. Rahman, “As obesity numbers climb, many women identify overweight as normal, not based on the scale but on how they view themselves.”

This finding is of concern because “greater misperception of body weight in this group means less weight loss behavior, which may make them more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease risk factors and other obesity-related diseases.”

Simply put, if overweight women don’t realize they are overweight they won’t make any effort to lose weight.

The research also reveals other surprising findings. For example, though it’s often claimed that most women think they are too fat, only 16 percent of normal-weight women in the study perceived themselves as overweight. The vast majority (84 percent) accurately perceived themselves as normal weight or underweight.

It seems that the Bridget Joneses of the world are in the minority, and this may help explain why studies show that three out of four teen girls are happy with their bodies. The study, “Self-Perception of Weight and Its Association With Weight-Related Behaviors in Young, Reproductive-Aged Women,” is published in this month’s Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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