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May 10, 2001

Women have poorer body image than men

By Merritt McKinney

NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters Health) - Even though women are less likely to be overweight than men, they are up to 10 times more likely to have a distorted body image, according to a report from the UK.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland asked employees at a British bank and university their weight and height, and then asked whether they felt "too heavy," "too light" or "about the right weight" for their height.

The researchers used the height and weight reported by the employees to calculate a measure of obesity called the BMI, or body mass index.

According to a report in the latest issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 39% of men and 21% of women at the bank were overweight, as were 35% of men and 29% of women at the university.

Women may have been more likely to be a healthy weight, but many did not think so.

"Women were more likely to perceive themselves as overweight, even when their weight was within the appropriate range for their height," the study's lead author, Dr. Carol Emslie, told Reuters Health.

At the university, women were three times more likely than men to say that they weighed too much. Female bank employees were 10 times more likely to feel overweight than their male co-workers.

"This research suggests that women's perception of their body image is a problem in adulthood, not just at younger age," Emslie said.

Women who are normal-sized are the ones who are most likely to have distorted perceptions of their weight, the study showed.

"An interesting finding from our research was that there were no gender differences in body image amongst very thin and very overweight people," she said.

"Underweight men and women thought they were 'too light' for their height, while obese people thought they were 'too heavy,'" she said.

"It is the people, particularly women, who are a desirable weight who have an inappropriate body image," according to Emslie.

One way to change women's misconceptions about their bodies would be to feature more women of "normal" weight in the media, according to Emslie. She pointed to Renee Zellweger's weight gain for the movie "Bridget Jones's Diary" as an encouraging example.

"It was helpful--and unusual--to see a woman on the screen who looked a more 'normal' size," she said.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2001;55:406-407.

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