Possible Consequences of Normalizing Obesity Begin to Emerge - BRIGID Magazine

Friday, June 22, 2018

Possible Consequences of Normalizing Obesity Begin to Emerge

Image: ModCloth
A top trend in women's fashion is the disappearance of the plus size label. Instead, clothing companies are expanding women's clothing sizes to include those formerly known as "plus size". As part of the trend, a variety of body types are being seen in top ad campaigns — where once only the very tall and very thin reigned.

This might seem like a welcome change towards increasing body positivity, but the trend may be inadvertently adding to the world's weight problem.

The body positivity movement could be undermining efforts at combating the obesity epidemic by changing our perception of our own bodies, according to new research conducted by Raya Muttarak of the University of East Anglia and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Repackaging women's clothing to fit the fuller-sized fashion market and "changing the labelling of clothes sizes can distort consumers' perception of size," wrote Muttarak in the Obesity journal. And according to the visual normalization theory, larger bodies are becoming increasingly normalized as more and more of those around us are overweight or obese. In other words, what would have been labelled "fat" a decade ago is now considered "normal" or "average". This has led to a widespread inability to estimate body weight status.

Since individuals usually need to be aware that they are overweight or obese in order to attempt to lose weight, our growing lack of awareness could have a detrimental impact on public health.

Muttarak analyzed data of 23,459 participants from the Health Survey for England that covered five years: 1997, 1998, 2002, 2014, and 2015. The participants' responses regarding self-assessment of weight status were matched to their BMI measurements.

Image: Oscar Keys
Based on this analysis, Muttarak concluded that "a normalization of overweight and obesity has become widespread in England." Of those individuals who were deemed overweight or obese based on objective measures, 38.5 percent of men and 17.2 percent of women perceived their weight as the right weight. And these numbers have risen over time.

Of those individuals who were deemed overweight based on objective measures, the number of people who underestimated their weight increased from 48.4 percent to 57.9 percent in men and 24.5 percent to 30.6 percent in women between 1997 and 2015. "Similarly, among individuals classified as having obesity," Muttarak said, "the proportion of men misperceiving their weight as about the right weight in 2015 doubled that of 1997," — from 6.6 percent to 12 percent.

The results had striking socioeconomic features. The odds of underestimating weight status decreased as the level of education and income increased. "The odds of underestimating overweight and obesity among individuals with no qualification was 1.8 times higher than those with degree qualifications." And in terms of income levels, those in the lowest income brackets were 1.3 times more likely to underestimate their weight compared to those in the highest income brackets.

Overall, the individuals who underestimated their weight were 85 percent less likely to try to lose weight when compared to those who correctly estimated their weight status.

Though this research was done in the United Kingdom, similar results are expected in other countries with identified obesity problems.

by Kristen Hovet

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