WAIKOLOA, HAWAII -- Studies of weight and body image that categorize Asians as a unified ethnic category miss enormous differences between ethnic groups, Dr. Alayne Yates reported at a meeting sponsored by the International College of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Failing to distinguish between individuals of Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Native Hawaiian descent "masks important between-group differences and hampers multiethnic research in the Pacific region," said Dr. Yates, professor of psychiatry and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
Dr. Yates and her associates measured the body mass index (BMI) of 933 community college students from Honolulu and Jefferson City, Mo., and then administered the Figure Drawing Index (to measure body dissatisfaction), the Self-Loathing Subscale, three scales of the Eating Disorder Inventory-2, and symptom self-reports.
Students in Hawaii included whites, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Native Hawaiians, and individuals of multiethnic heritage. African American students were recruited in Missouri, since that group was not well represented in the Hawaii cohort.
Startling differences were seen in body size and body image by ethnicity.
Among men, the mean BMI values ranged from 21.7 among Chinese students to 28.4 among Filipinos, with obesity rates ranging from 3% of Japanese males to 28% of Filipino males.
But satisfaction with body image varied substantially among the various groups.
When asked, "Do you want to be bigger or smaller?" many males--with the exception of Filipinos--preferred to be larger, even if they had BMIs that were higher than average.
"The largeness dimension is valued more by other males than by females," Dr. Yates said.
"Probably what it represents is wanting to be more competitive, wanting to feel like you're ascendant over other males," Dr. Yates added.
Filipino males, who had the highest BMI values, were the only subgroup of males who overwhelmingly wanted to be smaller.
Their rates of body dissatisfaction were dramatically higher than any other male group and higher, in fact, than females from any ethnic group.
In addition, Filipino males scored the highest among males on the self-loathing subscale.
This suggested that they might be at risk for eating disorders, according to Dr. Yates.
Caucasian men, on the other hand, had quite high BMI values (mean of 25.2), but they were generally quite well satisfied with their body appearance and had the lowest rates of self-loathing among all men in the study, according to Dr. …