Thursday, 5 February 2009

Quick hit: Overweight = abnormal, apparently

From Stuff's lifestyle section, AUT research reckons:
Many girls who did not see themselves as overweight were trying to lose weight anyway, the study found.

Of the 945 girls, 76 assessed themselves as underweight, 648 said they were normal and 221 said they were overweight.

"In our sample, 23 per cent of girls considered themselves overweight, whereas around 46 per cent are trying to lose weight," the study said.

The "relatively high degree of weight misclassification" was of concern.

Girls who incorrectly perceived themselves to be overweight might face a higher risk of eating disorders, the study said. "Conversely, overweight girls who are unable to recognise their condition are unlikely to initiate the lifestyle changes required to obtain a healthy body weight."

While both situations were bad, underestimating "excessive body fat" was a greater public health risk. Interventions and educational campaigns to help girls recognise a state of excess body fat should be a priority, the study said.

When it comes to body shape surely there is no normal? The choice of Stuff to focus it's coverage on the overweight end is predictable.

7 comments:

Alison said...

Ugh. RNZ National just reported this. Right at the end of the item they mentioned that "a significant proportion" of the underweight girls were also "dieting and exercising to lose weight".

The emphasis on the overweight end makes NO sense; underweight girls who are dieting will have a far higher mortality rate than overweight girls not dieting. They haven't even bothered to differentiate between overweight and obese, at least in the reporting, so we're presumably including a whole lot of girls who are a matter of a few hundred grams over the farcically arbitrary line that is "overweight".

I'm so fed up with the paranoia about fat, especially when it comes in as clearly a gendered form as this.

Lucy said...

Interventions and educational campaigns to help girls recognise a state of excess body fat should be a priority, the study said.

Because God knows that girls don't get any input from society encouraging them to be thin or telling them they're fat. Clearly, this must be rectified!

*facepalm*

I accept that obesity is a medical problem, but if they're using the BMI metric of overweight - which, for starters, *does not work if you're under eighteen* - then the difference between "normal" and "overweight" is pretty damn arbitrary. In fact, I'd love to know what metric they are using. It makes a lot of difference.

Alison said...

I accept that obesity is a medical problem, but if they're using the BMI metric of overweight

Even that is far from uncontested - there are many good studies that show that it's not obesity itself that's a risk, it's lack of exercise and bad diet. Since we all know fat people who are fit and eat well, and thin people who are the opposite, it's amazing to me that we still try to take the short cut of assuming that obesity itself causes illness.

Giovanni said...

Reading your excerpt alone, I thought fair cop, they're studying the attitudes of teenage girls precisely because they're more likely to point to other problems than obesity alone - namely, perception of what is normal and the psychological issues that lead to excessive dieting and anorexia. Not so, though, as the quote from Lucy indicates, which is preceded by this sentence:

"While both situations were bad, underestimating "excessive body fat" was a greater public health risk."

Big call, that. And if it is in fact a study with such express normative aims, then Alison's point becomes key: what is "normal"? You could be the last person weighing less than seven stones in the country, would that make you "normal" and everybody else "abnormal"? Obviously we need to come to an understanding of what is a healthy body weight in relation to one's body type, and you're totally right, that's far from uncontested.

Carla Cunningham said...

I agree with the above article. It is so hard to lose weight, and so many people struggle with their weight problems all the time. The article reminded me of my book that has recently been published. The main character of my book is overweight, and also has many issues and struggles with her weight. But in the end she overcomes them, and finally manages to lose the weight that she subconsciously put on to protect herself from being hurt by love, which I think, is something a lot of people out there tend to do without even realizing it. Being overweight is not just about the physical, it's also about what is going on with a person’s psychological issues.


Carla Cunningham, Published Author of Alone in the Storm.
A copy of my book can be purchased from the following website:
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/AloneInTheStorm.html

Julie said...

Yes, I quite deliberately chose the least bad part of the article to quote, because I just found it too depressing to regurgitate the more judgemental and ludicrous bits.

What particularly bugged me is that the article (don't know about the research) fails to acknowledge that different ethnic groups in particular will have different BMI ranges that are "healthy", yet it does mention the demographic breakdown of the study.

I'm far more concerned that there are young women coming to the conclusion that their body is wrong, than that some might be more overweight than they think they are.

Julie said...

Also, Queen of Thorns has a great post on just this thing, I strongly advise you check it out!