Losing weight is no easy task (as most dieters can attest to), however, doctors have a new challenge ahead of them. Recent research suggests that many obese patients think they look just fine the way they are. Although positive body image is important in a time when so many women (and men!) suffer from low self esteem and disordered eating, there is an important distinction between how much fat is aesthetically pleasing and how much fat is healthy.
In a study of over 2,000 Texans with BMI’s greater than 30 (medically obese), participants viewed nine illustrations of bodies on a scale from very thin to very heavy. The volunteers were asked to pick their ideal shape along with the one that most closely resembled their own body. From this already over weight sample, about 165 people (8% of the group), chose ideal body shapes that were the same or bigger than their own, which suggests a misunderstanding of healthy weight.
Another important finding from this study was the role race played in body image. It probably comes as no surprise that only 2% of the white women surveyed were happy with their overweight frames, but 14% of black participants actually preferred the heavy, unhealthy body types over a thinner shape. Clearly, social cues factor into self image and the recognition of obesity. In the U.S. today, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. This “frequency of fat” has helped normalize obesity in the public's perception. As a result, we often forget that obesity is more than just inconvenient - it's dangerously unhealthy too.
In order to maximize overall health for Americans, doctors can use findings from this study to provide patients with the most effective, individualized care.