Chasm Exists Between Cultural, Medical Definitions of Obesity

Gap may serve as barrier to communication about health risks of large body size for black women

MONDAY, Oct. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cultural definitions of body size terms differ from a participant's actual body size, according to a study published in the September-October issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Elizabeth B. Lynch, Ph.D., and John Kane, from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, analyzed results from 69 African-American women who used Body Image Scale figures (overweight, obese, and too fat) to select the one closest to their current body size.

The researchers found that body size classifications of figures did not vary by participant weight status. Participants did not consider overweight figures too fat. For the majority (86 percent) of overweight women (body mass index [BMI], 25 to 29.9 kg/m²) and 40 percent of obese women (BMI >30 kg/m²), the self-figure was not defined as overweight, obese, or too fat. Even among participants with BMI ≥35 kg/m², 65 percent did not classify their self-figure as obese and 29 percent did not classify their self-figure as overweight.

"The difference between cultural (folk) and medical definitions of body size terms may serve as a barrier to effective communication between patients and providers about health effects of excess adiposity," the authors write.

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