The Body Morph Assessment: Measuring Body Image

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2009 Volume 20, Number 6
©2009 Gürze Books

Physicians at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA, have developed what they feel is a much improved instrument for measuring body image (Body Image 2009;6:67). The Body Morph Assessment version 2.0 (BMA 2.0) measures current body size, ideal body size, and acceptable body size. According to Dr. Tiffany M. Stewart of the Pennington Center, the computerized program also can provide an estimate of body size over/underestimation compared to individuals of the same sex and body mass index.

Drawbacks of current techniques

Over the years, many weaknesses of figural stimuli measures have been noted, such as coarse response scales, uneven methods of presentation and unreliable measurement scales, and content validity problems. For example, with the use of body silhouettes, individuals are typically asked to select a single choice from a limited number of images for a continuous variable (body size), which can influence their responses. Sometimes all silhouette cards are placed on the table at once, and some approaches place cards in ascending order from smallest to largest body size. Thus, the individual may use the other cards as a point of reference for his or her choices. Some are animated drawings or grossly unrealistic sketches of human figures, making it difficult for the person taking the test to relate or to refer to his or her body. Few have been validated on obese populations, or men, or different ethnic groups. Despite this, according to the authors, the silhouette figures have been attractive to some clinicians because they provide a quick and unobtrusive way to measure body image dissatisfaction.

In contrast, the Body Morph Assessment uses a video-like continuous response scale with 100 figures, from the thin endpoint to the obese endpoint. The figures increase equally throughout the program. Because of the movie-like format, the person being tested sees only one figure at a time, in the form of a human morph movie, so that it appears to them that they are seeing one body that grows on a fine gradient. The figures are created from high-quality graphic animation software and thus more closely resemble human figures than do most existing figural stimuli methods. The BMA 2.0 replaces an earlier version of the software and is designed for use with African-American and Caucasian men and women ranging from a very thin body size to an obese body size. The test takes from 10 to 15 minutes and is unobtrusive in that participants do not have to remove clothing or be photographed.

A test for Caucasian and African-American men and women

The researchers tested the programs with 563 participants (297 females, 162 males) recruited from universities, research studies, and the general community. The participants were studied in four groups classified by gender and ethnicity (Caucasian men and women and African-American men and women). The BMA 2.0 was reliable and valid for estimating current body size, ideal body size, and acceptable body size, as well as for measuring body dissatisfaction.

The test did have some limitations, such as not being tested on populations other than Caucasians and African-American adults, and thus the results cannot be generalized to other groups. The current form of the test also does not have the ability to adjust body part size or muscularity. The authors also reported that 3.5% of the participants selected the default figures (the first thin and first obese figures) as their choices.

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