Body Weight, Self-Esteem, and Depression in Korean Female Adolescents

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to examine whether body mass index (BMI) and perception of a body weight problem predict level of self-esteem and depression in Korean female adolescents. The sample consisted of 303 females, ranging in age from 15 to 19 years, who were attending four high schools located in Seoul, Korea. BMI and desired BMI were calculated based on self-reported weight and height. Self-perception of having a weight problem was evaluated by one question: "Do you see yourself as having a weight problem?" Self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and depression was measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Based on BMI, 18.2% of the females were underweight, 79.2% were of normal weight, and 2.6% were overweight. Based on desired BMI, 78.5% of the females desired to be underweight. Results showed that perception of a weight problem, but not BMI, contributed significantly to the prediction of level of self-esteem and depression. In addition, there was a significant positive correlation between BMI and perception of a weight problem.

Many women want to be slim, since slim is regarded as beautiful (Benedikt, Wertheim, & Love, 1998; Meadow & Weiss, 1992; Ross, 1994), while being overweight is viewed negatively (Ross, 1994). Thus, women are under greater pressure than men to lose weight (Williamson, Serdula, Anda, Levy, & Byers, 1992).

Physical appearance differs in meaning and importance for males and females; concerns surrounding body weight and shape also differ (Gardner, Friedman, & Jackson, 1999; Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, & Rodin, 1986). Further, for females, as compared with males, there is a greater discrepancy between their perceived body size and their ideal body size (Gardner et al., 1999).

Female adolescents are more preoccupied with physique and appearance than are those in other age groups (Bruch, 1981), and they are more likely to identify themselves as overweight than are males (Kann, Kinchen, & Williams, 1998). Research has indicated that female adolescents tend to be dissatisfied with their body weight, size, and shape (Huon, 1994; Wichstrom, 1995). For example, Moore (1988) reported that dissatisfaction with body weight and shape was highest among females aged 12 through 23 years.

Since feelings about oneself may be shaped by the attitudes of others, those who are overweight may suffer from low self-esteem and have high levels of depression (Ross, 1994). Sheslow, Hassink, Wallace, and Delancey (1993) noted that obesity in adolescence may cause psychosocial problems, such as lowered self-esteem, depression, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

A distorted perception of one's body is among the determinants of disturbances in self-esteem (Gardner et al., 1999). A more negative body image is related to lower self-esteem (Guinn, Semper, Jorgensen, & Skaggs, 1997). Wichstrom (1995) reported that perceived obesity is associated with depression and unstable self-perceptions in the general adolescent population in Norway.

In Korean society, attitudes toward those who are overweight and obese tend to be negative. In a study by Kim and Yoon (2000), 72.5% of normal weight Korean female adolescents perceived themselves as overweight or obese; 76% of those females tried to lose weight. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether body mass index (BMI) and perception of a weight problem predict level of self-esteem and depression in Korean female adolescents.



A convenience sample of 303 adolescent females, drawn from four high schools in Seoul, Korea, participated in this study. They ranged in age from 15 to 19 years, with a mean age of 16.39 (SD = .90). Data were collected in November and December 1999.


BMI. Body mass index was calculated based on self-reported weight and height (weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) to determine which females were underweight, normal weight, and overweight (Keys, Fidanza, Karvonen, Kimura, & Taylor, 1972). …