Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Relationship of Body Size and Adiposity to Source of Self-Esteem in College Women

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

The Relationship of Body Size and Adiposity to Source of Self-Esteem in College Women

Article excerpt

Background: Studies looking at self-esteem and body size or adiposity generally demonstrate a negative relationship. However, the relationship between the source of self-esteem and body size has not been examined in college women. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship of body size and adiposity to source of self-esteem (achievement or self-acceptance) in young adult women. Methods: Participants were healthy women between the ages of 18 and 25 years. Participants completed the Worth Index to determine source of self-esteem. Body height and weight were measured and body composition was assessed by the BOD POD. Results: One hundred fifty-eight college women completed the study. Source of self-esteem was primarily self-acceptance. Achievement self-esteem in appearance was positively correlated to percentage body fat (P < 0.05). Body mass index (BMI) was negatively related to self-acceptance self-esteem in appearance and performance (P < 0.05). Global self-esteem was significantly lower for individuals in the highest BMI category. Discussion: Women with higher BMI and body fat tend to see their worth as more contingent upon appearance than women with lower body weights. Thus, these women tend to have a source of self-esteem that is less stable and more psychologically vulnerable. Translation to Health Education Practice: Self-acceptance self-esteem contributes to a healthier sense of self than achievement self-esteem. These results help to inform health educators on how to effectively plan health programs for young women.


One of the biggest health concerns in our society today is the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. Being overweight and/or obese has a negative influence on health and mortality, (1) and more than two thirds of the adult population is obese or overweight. (2) Because of the increasing number of obese and overweight individuals, prevention of unhealthy weight gain is of great concern.

Across college campuses, students are facing problems of weight gain and obesity. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, obesity rates are increasing at the fastest rate for adults ages 18 to 30 years. (3) Unfortunately, weight gain is much more common than weight stability or weight loss in this age group. (4) This is specifically true of college students; the average weight gain for freshmen ranges from 1.6 to 8.8 lbs. (5,6)

One factor that is related to weight gain in college students is the positive or negative regard students have for themselves, referred to as self-esteem. (7-10) Edward Deci, a professor at the University of Rochester, has focused much of his research on self-esteem and along with his colleague, Richard Ryan, has created the self-determination theory, which focuses on health behaviors and the motivation behind them. According to Deci, it is important for educators to understand that self-esteem may come from 1 of 2 sources. (11,12) One source of self-esteem is unconditional and is referred to as self-acceptance self-esteem. In this source of self-esteem, individuals believe that their value is intrinsic and is not earned or produced by any action or achievement. Deci calls this source of self-esteem true self-esteem: "True self-esteem represents a sound, stable sense of oneself, built on a solid foundation of believing in one's worth as a human being." (11(p117)) This source of self-esteem is more stable and does not change based on personal behavior or events in one's life.

The other source of self-esteem, achievement self-esteem, is more extrinsic and results from a feeling that worth is achieved or merited. Deci calls this source of self-esteem contingent self-esteem and states that it is "less stable, less securely based in a fundamental sense of worth." (11 (p. 117)) It is not constant and changes under different circumstances. This inconsistency leaves individuals uncertain and self-derogatory. …

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