Nearly 25 percent of overweight and 16 percent of normal weight women of reproductive-age misperceive their body weight, says a new study.
The research from University of Texas Medical Branch suggests that this misperception affects women's weight-related behaviors making many vulnerable to cardiovascular and other obesity-related diseases.
The researchers also found that overweight women who perceive themselves as normal weight were significantly less likely to report weight-related behaviors, such as dieting.
"As obesity numbers climb, many women identify overweight as normal, not based on the scale but on how they view themselves," said corresponding author Mahbubur Rahman, assistant professor Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health.
Self-perception of body weight is the degree of concordance between perceived and measured weight.
The study analyzed more than 2,200 women 18-25 years old based on survey questions pertaining to sociodemographic variables, height, weight, weight perceptions and weight-related behaviors.
Women with Body Mass Index (BMI) below 25 were considered normal weight and those with BMIs of 25 or more were considered overweight. Overall, 52 percent of the study participants were considered overweight or obese.
Weight-related behaviors assessed included using diet pills, powder or liquids, laxatives or diuretics; induced vomiting; skipping meals; dieting/eating less or differently; smoking more cigarettes; and not eating carbohydrates.
Respondents were also asked about the number of days over the last week that they exercised for at least 30 minutes continuously.
Overweight misperceivers had significantly lower odds of participating in healthy or unhealthy weight-related behaviors. Normal weight misperceivers were more than twice as likely to diet, skip meals and smoke more cigarettes; the respective odds were nearly four and five times higher with regard to using diet pills, powder, liquids and diuretics.
"Weight misperception is a threat to the success of obesity prevention programs. Overweight individuals who do not recognize that they are overweight are far less likely to eat healthfully and exercise. These patients are at risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious problems," said lead author Abbey Berenson, of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health.
The researchers recommend that clinicians calculate patients' BMI at each visit as part of their vital signs, routinely screen for misperceptions of body weight and inquire about unhealthy weight-related behaviors so that they can counsel patients appropriately.
"This is especially important for reproductive-age women because they are more likely to be obese than similarly aged men, often because they've had at least one child and have not lost pregnancy weight and find that their schedules make it difficult to exercise and eat healthfully," added Berenson.
The study is published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.