Weight Attitudes Different as Black and White

Heli J. Roy  |  10/4/2004 4:26:45 AM

White adolescents are more occupied with thinness than black adolescents. LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy examines this phenomenon found in a Pennington Biomedical Research Center study.

Conducted by Dr. Donald Williamson and reported in the "Journal of Eating and Weight Disorders," March 2003, the study tested the hypotheses that black adolescents were less concerned with body size than white adolescents and that dieting behavior was related to body size, according to Roy.

Williamson found that white adolescents tend to be obsessively concerned about their body size and have more eating disorders than black adolescents. They tend to overestimate their body size and desire to be thinner than black adolescents.

On the other hand, the heavier black adolescents have lower incidences of eating disorders than white adolescents.

"There seems to be a cultural standard that drives a desirable body size," Roy points out.

Thirty-two black and 29 white girls ages 11 to 18 participated. They completed several questionnaires, such as measures of self-esteem, perceived pressure for thinness, perception of physical appearance, fear of fatness, depression, dieting status and eating behaviors. They also reported their weight and height in a demographic questionnaire.

The two groups differed on most measures of body dissatisfaction and dieting behavior. Black girls had healthier attitudes about their physical appearances. They were less likely to report societal pressure for being thin and had fewer weeks in the recent past when they had dieted.

White girls were more likely to have dieted in the recent past, were less satisfied with their bodies and felt societal pressure to be thin. White adolescents who dieted more often were more likely to be depressed, feared being fat and were sensitive to media messages for being thin.

White adolescents were likely to diet whether or not they were overweight or obese. In black adolescents, dieting was correlated with body weight; that is, heavier girls were more likely to be on a diet.

Overall, white girls were more likely to be on a diet than black girls, and dieting behavior was related to concerns about body size, not to an actual need to lose weight.

Roy explains, "Anorexia nervosa, a serious eating disorder, occurs when dieting occurs in the absence of overweight or obesity and the individual is overly concerned about body weight."

Cultural factors seem to influence accepted beauty standards and the drive to achieve a certain weight. These factors also may be a reason why more black women are obese. Black women do not perceive themselves as overweight and obese, and are less likely to be thought of as overweight or obese by their society.

Roy adds, "Lack of knowledge about health risks associated with obesity may keep black women from seeking help or attempting to lose weight."

The nutritionist notes that the societal acceptance of higher weight in women in the black community may keep them from acquiring eating disorders but, at the same time, may increase the risk for obesity.

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