Unhealthy weight perceptions more unhealthy than unhealthy weight

Results soon to be published in the International Journal of Obesity reveal that overweight and underweight perception rather than weight status or weight misperception are significant risk factors associated with medium and high psychological distress in Australian men and women.

Investigators, Dr Evan Atlantis from The University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Science along with a senior research scientist from Deakin University, analysed data obtained from the Australian National Health Survey 2004-5 to determine whether weight status and weight perceptions are independently associated with psychological distress.

They found that individuals with overweight or underweight perceptions have an increased chance of experiencing medium (40 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively) and high levels of psychological distress (50 per cent and 120 per cent, respectively), whereas weight status and weight misperception (i.e., incorrect with weight status) are not associated with psychological distress when accounting for weight perceptions.

Dr Atlantis concludes that "weight perceptions that deviate from societal 'ideals' are more closely and consistently associated with psychological distress than actual weight status, regardless of weight misperception".

"If unhealthy weight perceptions are subsequently found to cause psychological distress or worse, depression, then we'll need to determine whether social stigma, discrimination, and slim body image marketing trigger feelings of depression amongst those whom recognize that their weight status does not conform to a societal ideal", he said.

"Clearly both obesity and underweight are hazardous to health, increasing the risk of premature death, for example, but our findings suggest that public health initiatives targeting psychological distress at the population level may need to promote healthy attitudes towards body weight and self-acceptance, regardless of weight status", he said.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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