Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Relationship of College Students' Perceptions of Their BMI and Weight Status to Their Physical Self-Concept

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Relationship of College Students' Perceptions of Their BMI and Weight Status to Their Physical Self-Concept

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Limited research has investigated the relationship between individuals' perceptions of their weight status and their physical self-concept. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the accuracy of college students' Body Mass Index (BMI) scores (i.e. based on actual and self-reported data), and whether students' physical self-concept scores differed according to their perceived weight status classification. Methods: Undergraduate students (N=192) completed the Physical Self-Description Questionnaire and self-reported their height, weight and weight status classification. Actual height and weight measurements were also obtained. Results: Analysis using t-tests revealed females had significantly higher actual than self-reported BMI scores (t = 2.16, df = 125, P < 0.05), but not males. ANOVA analyses revealed a significant difference for both females and males in physical self-concept scores based on their weight status category. Discussion: Results suggested that males, but not females, accurately reported their height and weight scores, but neither gender tended to accurately identify their weight status. Females and males who perceived themselves to be of normal weight reported the highest physical self-concept scores. Translation to Health Education Practice: To understand and assess students' health risks better, health educators should provide students information about (1) accurately identifying and understanding their BMI scores, (2) their weight status implications, and (3) the effects that weight status may have on physical self-concept.

BACKGROUND

Obesity is described by the U.S. Surgeon General as the fastest-growing cause of death and disease in the U.S. (1) Over half the population is considered overweight or obese, based on Body Mass Index (BMI) scores. BMI is an anthropological measure that is currently used by health and medical professions as a marker of obesity. (2) Surprisingly, researchers have found only 22% of individuals perceive themselves as having a weight problem. For some people, a disconnect exists between their perceived and actual weight and weight status. (3) For the purposes of this study, weight status refers to the Quetelet BMI categories (i.e. underweight, normal, overweight, obese). (4) If individuals who are overweight or obese do not recognize their actual weight status, they may be unaware of the health risks and less receptive to strategies that would support a healthier lifestyle. In a similar vein, if healthy weight individuals perceive they are overweight or obese, they may engage in weight loss behaviors that are not needed and/or unhealthy. Also of concern is the negative association between individuals' perceptions of their weight status to their physical self-concept that has emerged in research with adolescents. (5) Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the accuracy of college students' BMI scores (i.e., based on actual and self-report data) and the relationship between students' perceived weight status to their physical self-concept.

To estimate body weight and composition, BMI has been used as a standard indicator of health-related risks. (6) Although BMI has limitations, research has found a positive association between BMI and diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, gallbladder disease and some forms of cancer. Therefore, the measure has been used to place individuals in broad weight status categories, allowing healthcare professionals to identify those considered overweight and obese who are at greater risk for major health concerns. (7)

Across studies, BMI is calculated based on either self-report or actual height and weight. Self-reported height and weight is often used for weight status classification, and this is of concern because self-report measures of BMI have consistently revealed poor validity. (8,9) Researchers have identified common trends of under-reporting weight and BMI and over-reporting height, two problems that can skew individuals' perceptions of themselves. …

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