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Research In Health Disparities

Gender Differences in Body Image and Health Perceptions among Graduating Seniors from a Historically Black College

Susan M. Gross, PhD, MPH, RD; Tiffany L. Gary, PhD; Dorothy C. Browne, DrPH; and Thomas A. LaVeist, PhD

Baltimore, Maryland

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. A cross-sectional survey of 318 African-American graduating seniors from a historically black college or university (HBCU) was conducted. Data were collected on anthropometrics, body image, ideal weight, perceived risk for disease due to weight, and impact of weight on social interactions. Only 39% of males who were overweight perceived themselves as overweight compared with 68% of overweight females. Eighty percent of females and 63% of males expressed some body size dissatisfaction. Fewer obese males (38%) perceived a risk for disease due to their weight compared with obese females (64%), p 0.01. Males perceived greater impact than females of their weight on social interactions, with extremely obese males perceiving the greatest impact. Perceived risk for disease due to weight was related to body mass index, family weight history, body awareness and income, but not body size satisfaction. Findings suggest gender differences in the self-perception of body size, accuracy of body size perception, and understanding of acceptable weight ranges. Awareness of acceptable weight ranges and consequences of overweight needs to be raised.

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

J Natl Med Assoc. 2005;97:1608–1619