Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Body Weight and Body Image among a Sample of Female and Male South African University Students*

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Body Weight and Body Image among a Sample of Female and Male South African University Students*

Article excerpt

Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess body weight and body image among South African male and female university students. Participants (N=289), 189 women and 100 men, were systematically chosen from non-health sciences courses in a class setting. The Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ) comprising of 10 subscales was administered and anthropometric measurements (weight and height) were taken. Results indicate that almost one-third (30.5%) of the women and 8.7% of the men were overweight or obese, and 15.2% of the men and 9.6% of the women were underweight, 3.4% of the women and none of the men were obese. A large proportion of the males and of the females had misconceptions about their body weight. Multivariable linear regression identified for women self-classified overweight, negative appearance orientation, positive health evaluation, positive illness orientation and overweight preoccupation as independent predictors for Body Mass Index (BMI), and for men self-classified overweight and overweight preoccupation as independent predictors for BMI. Body image perceptions are important in the management of weight control.

Key words: Body weight, Overweight, Obesity, Body image, University students, South Africa

Introduction

Overweight and obesity are becoming significant problems in countries like South Africa. In the most recent Demographic and Health Survey in South Africa 54.9% of the adult women and 29.8% of adult men were overweight or obese; the proportions for 15 to 24 year-olds were 30.7% and 11.5%, respectively (Department of Health (2007). A study of the prevalence of overweight and obesity among participants in the South African National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey in 2002 and 2008 showed that among male adolescents, overweight rates increased from 6.3% in 2002 to 11.0% in 2008 and among female adolescents, overweight rates increased from 24.3% in 2002 to 29.0% in 2008 (Reddy et al., 2011).

Body image is conceived as one's attitudinal dispositions toward the physical self (Pruzinsky & Cash, 1990). As attitudes, these dispositions include evaluative, cognitive, and behavioural components. Moreover, the physical self encompasses not only one's physical appearance but also the body's competence or "fitness" and its biological integrity of "health/illness" (Cash, 2000). Overweight and obese women report greater body image dissatisfaction than normal weight women (Cash & Green, 1986; Schwartz & Brownell, 2004). Sarwer, Thompson and Cash (2005) conclude that among American women and men dissatisfaction with physical appearance appears to be more the rule than the exception. Features likely to be affected negatively by excess body weight, such as the abdomen, hips, and thighs, generate greater dissatisfaction among women (Garner, 1997). Research on the relationship between body image and obesity is relatively new, especially in Africa. "Many obese individuals have body image concerns, but these concerns are not universal. Furthermore, there appears to be little relationship between the degree of obesity and the intensity of the dissatisfaction. The nature of the obesity and its effect on body size and shape may moderate the relationship with the degree of body image dissatisfaction." (Sarwer et al., 2005, p. 82). Negative body image or body dissatisfactions, lower satisfaction with physical appearance has been found in some studies to be associated with BMI (Bodiba, Madu, Ezeokana, & Nnedum, 2008; Chen, Fox, Haase & Ku, 2010). Duncan and Nevill (2010) examined the association between body image and multiple indices of obesity in a sample of young adults, and found that per cent body fatness alone provided the best predictive model of the appearance evaluation, body areas satisfaction, appearance orientation and overweight preoccupation.

The aim of this study was to assess body weight and body image among South African male and female university students. …

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