Is Feeling Fat Worse Than Being Fat?

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
July/August 2008 Volume 19, Number 4
©2008 Gürze Books

According to two recent studies, a perception of being overweight or obese can affect our feeling of well-being to a greater degree than can excess pounds.

Dr. Peter Muennig and colleagues at Columbia University, New York City, recently reported that the more dissatisfied a person is with his or her weight, the more “bad days” they report (Am J Public Health 2008; 98:501). When the team examined data on 170,577 subjects participating in a study of behavioral risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, they found this pattern of feeling fat was strongest among non-Hispanic whites and women.

People who felt they needed to lose just 1% of their body weight had 0.1 more unhealthy days a month than those who thought their weight was ideal. However, women who wanted to lose 10% of their body weight reported 1.6 unhealthy days a month, and those who wanted to take off 20% reported 4.3 unhealthy days. Men who thought they were 10% overweight lost 0.9 days to poor mental of physical health, while those who felt they needed to lose 20% of their body weight reported 4.3 unhealthy days. Women experienced more stigma for being overweight than did men, and excess weight may be less acceptable among whites than among African-Americans or Hispanics, according to the Columbia team.

They have also noticed that that being overweight doesn’t increase mortality rates among ethnic groups that are more accepting of overweight and obesity.

A second study: when teens who aren’t fat feel fat

Results of a study among young Dutch adolescents show no evidence that being overweight coincides with less favorable well-being in preadolescents, but also that this changes as the preadolescents get older (J Adolesc Health 2008; 42:128). When Dr. W. Jansen and two colleagues evaluated data from the ongoing Rotterdam Youth Health Monitor, a study of 1,923 boys aged 9 to 10 years and 3,841 boys 12 to 13 years old, two patterns emerged. The 9- to 10-year-old obese boys scored higher on social anxiety than did non-overweight boys of the same age. Among those 12 to 13 years old, body weight perception rather than self-reported or measured weight was associated with mental health indicators. Among the older boys, feeling overweight, rather than being overweight, appears to be important.

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