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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Jun;14(6):980-8.

Ethnic and sex variations in overweight self-perception: relationship to sedentariness.

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  • 1Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA 90095-6900, USA.



With increasing frequency, health promotion messages advocating physical activity are claiming weight loss as a benefit. However, messages promoting physical activity as a weight loss strategy may have limited effectiveness and cross-cultural relevance. We recently found self-perceived overweight to be a more robust correlate of sedentary behavior than BMI in Los Angeles County adults. In this study, we examined ethnic and sex differences in overweight self-perception and their association with sedentariness in this sample.


We conducted bivariate and multivariate analyses of cross-sectional survey data from a representative sample of Los Angeles County adults.


Women were more likely to perceive themselves to be overweight than men overall (73.2% of overweight/non-obese and 24.1% of average weight women vs. 44.5% of overweight/non-obese and 5.6% of average weight men) and within each ethnic group. African-Americans were least likely (41.3% of overweight/non-obese African-Americans self-identified as overweight) and whites were most likely to consider themselves overweight (60.6% of overweight/non-obese whites self-identified as overweight). Overweight (vs. average weight) self-perception was correlated with sedentariness among average weight adults (45.3% vs. 33.0%, p < 0.001), overweight adults (43.4% vs. 33.6%, p < 0.001), men (average and overweight: 38.4% vs. 27.8%, p < 0.001), overweight whites (41.9% vs. 29.7%, p = 0.0012), and African-Americans and Latinos (41.6% vs. 33.9%, p = 0.005).


These data suggest that our society's emphasis on weight loss rather than lifestyle change may inadvertently discourage physical activity adoption/maintenance among non-obese individuals. However, further research is needed, particularly from prospective cohort and intervention studies, to elucidate the relationship between overweight self-perception and healthy lifestyle change.

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