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Perception of Who's Obese Varies by Race

Overweight blacks much more likely to consider their weight 'average,' study finds

FRIDAY, Dec. 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Compared with overweight white Americans, overweight black Americans are two to three times more likely to say their weight is average -- even after they've been diagnosed as overweight or obese by a doctor, a new study finds.

This weight "misperception" was most common among both black women and men, and was also seen in Hispanic men (but not women), say a team led by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The study found that weight misperception was highest among overweight black men (66.4 percent vs. 43.2 percent in overweight white men) and among overweight black women (40.9 percent vs. 20.6 percent for overweight white women). It was lowest among obese white women (3.1 percent vs. 11.2 percent for obese black women) and obese white men (8.9 percent vs. 26.2 percent of obese black men).

Excess weight increases a person's risk for diabetes, heart disease, many kinds of cancer, and premature death.

The study findings suggest that information and concern about the obesity epidemic in the United States hasn't had much impact on overweight black Americans' recognition of their excess pounds, said study lead author Gary G. Bennett of Dana-Farber's Center for Community-Based Research and Harvard School of Public Health.

Reporting in the current online issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Bennett and a colleague analyzed data collected by the U.S. National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey in 1988-98 and 2001-02.

"During this period, we've seen rapid gains in obesity. We think it's a considerable problem that this is still not resonating among blacks and other minorities," Bennett said in a prepared statement.

It's estimated that about 75 percent of black Americans are now overweight or obese. However, there's been less pressure for blacks to lose weight because of a cultural acceptance of higher body weight and heavier body shapes, Bennett said.

"We think that misperception can be very useful when it comes to protecting people against overly stringent body image ideals and eating disorders. But it's a problem when people fail to realize the health consequences associated with obesity," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about black Americans and weight.

SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Dec. 5, 2006
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