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The Self-Conceptions and Health Behaviors of Larger Women: Examining the Mediating Role of Affect

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examined possible determinants of some of the health behaviors of larger women. Specifically, it was of interest to discern if affect (depression, social physique anxiety) mediated the relationship between self-conceptions (global self-worth, perceived physical appearance) and behavior (disordered eating, physical activity). The investigation was grounded in the model of self-worth forwarded by Harter (1987). A total of 71 overweight or obese women agreed to participate in the study. Data collection involved a researcher meeting individually with each of the participants to record physical assessments as well as responses to a packet of self-report questionnaires. A series of canonical correlation analyses were then conducted to test each of the three conditions for mediation effects outlined by Baron and Kenny (1986). Results suggested that indeed the set of self-conceptions indirectly influenced the set of behaviors via the set of affect variables. Surprisingly, however, involvement in physical activity failed to contribute to the multivariate relationships. The findings further our understanding of how self-conceptions are related to behavior and highlight the value of examining multiple health behaviors in parallel.

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The experience of individuals who are overweight or obese needs to be better understood. Overweight and obesity are increasingly more prevalent in American society and are associated with disturbing health outcomes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS, 2000), as many as 55 percent of adults were considered overweight or obese from 1988 to 1994, compared to only 46 percent during the time period from 1976 to 1980. In addition, overweight and obesity are recognized as major contributing factors to many preventable causes of death. The USDHHS reports that people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and certain cancers. People who are obese may also have to contend with stigmatization, discrimination, and lowered self-esteem. Perhaps, then, it is not too surprising to learn that obesity accounted for $51.6 billion in direct costs (e.g., hospitalization, medication, etc.) and another $3.9 billion in indirect costs (e.g., lost productivity) in 1995 alone (Wolf, 2002). Given the physical, psychosocial, and economic ramifications of overweight and obesity, this study examined possible determinants of some of the health behaviors of larger women. This subset of the population was targeted because, despite their increasing numbers, larger women have traditionally been underrepresented in the empirical literature across multiple health areas (Marcus, Dubbert, King, & Pinto, 1995; Wilfley & Brownell, 1994).

Both eating habits and the level of physical activity are important ingredients in the effort to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It is not uncommon for larger women to engage in dieting practices in an attempt to lose weight (Polivy & McFarlane, 1998). Dieting, however, has typically been found to be ineffective. Studies show, for example, that most people who diet will regain any lost weight within a period of five years (National Institue of Health) Technology Assessment Conference Panel, 1993). More importantly, dieting has been recognized as a risk factor for the development of eating disorders (French & Jeffery, 1994). Dieting appears to be an antecedent of eating-disordered behavior in some overweight women, while a consequence of such behavior in others (Abbot et al., 1998). Although the directionality of this relationship remains in question, what has become clear over the past decade is the fact that overweight and obese women do indeed experience significant levels of disordered eating behavior. Studies in the early 1990s began documenting the existence of this form of pschopathology. …