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Ethn Health. 2000 Feb;5(1):79-94.

A study of body weight concerns and weight control practices of 4th and 7th grade adolescents.

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School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia 29208, USA.



The purpose of this study was to assess grade, race, socioeconomic status and gender differences in perceptions of body size, weight concerns, and weight control practices between 4th and 7th grade students in South Carolina.


Two random samples, consisting of a total of 1,597 children (53.1% white, 51.97% female, 44.9% 4th graders) participated in two questionnaire surveys. Both surveys included a series of seven female and seven male body size drawings, body image and weight concern questions, and questions pertaining to weight control practices. Responses to the questionnaire were analyzed using chi-square analysis and the General Linear Model.


Using socioeconomic status (SES), race, gender, and grade as independent variables, differences in ideal adult body size, opposite gender ideal adult body size, weight concerns, perceptions of family/peer weight concerns, perceptions of own body size and weight control practices were studied. Analyses revealed that 4th grade males select a larger ideal adult body size and opposite gender ideal adult body size when compared to 7th grade males (p < 0.0001 and p = 0.0078, respectively). Fourth grade females indicated less personal concern about their weight than 7th grade females (p = 0.0009). Fourth graders also perceived less family/peer concern about weight than 7th graders (p = 0.0027) and 7th graders described themselves as being more overweight than 4th graders (p = 0.0039). Blacks selected a significantly larger body size than white children for ideal adult (p = 0.0287) and ideal opposite gender adult body size (p < 0.0001 for males, p = 0.0030 for females). Blacks also perceived less personal and family/peer concern about weight when compared to whites (p = 0.0083). More whites reported that they were trying to lose weight, as compared to blacks (p = 0.0010). Males also selected significantly larger body size silhouettes than females for ideal adult body size (p = 0.0012). Males expressed less personal concern about weight (p < 0.0001), perceived less family/peer concern about weight (p < 0.0001), and were less likely than females to be engaged in weight loss (p < 0.0001). Females in the high SES category selected a significantly smaller ideal male adult body size than females in the low SES group (p = 0.0124) and more females in the high SES category were trying to lose weight when compared to females in the low SES group (p = 0.0055).


This study indicates that early in a child's sociocultural development, grade level, gender, race, and SES are influential in the perception of ideal adult body size and opposite gender ideal adult body size. These factors are also influential in determining concerns about weight and weight control practices. The findings of this study support the need to begin health and wellness education efforts early in childhood while taking into account racial, gender, age, and SES disparities. This knowledge can also be useful in targeting interventions for both obesity and eating disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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