Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Cultural Attitudes and Body Dissatisfaction

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Cultural Attitudes and Body Dissatisfaction

Article excerpt

Morgan State researchers find that perceptions of body image among young African Americans may be life threatening


Young African Americans don't appear to perceive obesity in the way the medical community does, putting them at greater risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer, says a first-ever study led by researchers at the Morgan State University Prevention Sciences Research Center.

The pilot study, which provides a rare look at the way African-American young adults perceive body size, body image and the impact of weight on their social lives and future health, comes at a time when obesity is near epidemic levels in the Black community and African-American youth are experiencing some of the highest rates.

Only 39 percent of males surveyed who were overweight actually considered themselves to be overweight compared with 68 percent of overweight females. And not all of the overweight men were dissatisfied with their weight or size, says lead researcher Dr. Susan M. Gross, a faculty fellow at the Morgan State prevention center.

In fact, most of the overweight men studied wanted to be larger in size in their upper torso. When males, for example, were asked to describe their current weight, what they desired to look like and what their healthy weight was, their desired weight and their healthy weight still put them in an overweight category.

"Males say, 'I want to be muscular and bigger,' but they aren't thinking of how being bigger impacts their weight for their height, they just want be a big guy to feel attractive," Gross says. "For the women, a curvaceous figure is what they're going after ... an hourglass figure. If they have one, they don't want to lose it."

Researchers suggest that racial differences in body dissatisfaction could be a cultural thing. For example, African Americans surveyed had more tolerant attitudes about weight gain and body image and felt less social pressure about weight.

The respondents, graduating seniors from a historically Black university in the Mid-Atlantic region, completed a self-administered paper-and-pencil survey as they waited in line to receive their graduation regalia. While the entire 2003 graduating class (855 students) from this institution was eligible to participate in the study, the final sample size was comprised of 318 students of which 104 (33 percent) were males and 214 (67 percent) were females. The study was conducted as part of a College Health and Wellness survey and supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. …

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