A pair of female feet on a bathroom scale

    The ‘body positivity’ movement is making people blind to their weight problems

    22 June 2018

    The normalisation of ‘plus-size’ body shapes is causing people to underestimate their weight, according to new research by the University of East Anglia.

    Analysis of data from almost 23,460 people who are overweight or obese revealed that weight misperception has increased in England. Men and individuals with lower levels of education and income are more likely to underestimate their weight and consequently less likely to try to lose weight.

    Those underestimating their weight are 85 per cent less likely to try to lose weight compared with people who accurately identified their weight status.

    The research shows that the number of overweight people who are misperceiving their weight has increased over time, from 48.4 per cent to 57.9 per cent in men and 24.5 per cent to 30.6 per cent in women between 1997 and 2015.

    Dr. Muttarak, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalisation of being overweight and obese. While this type of body positive movement helps reduce stigmatisation of larger-sized bodies, it can potentially undermine the recognition of being overweight and its health consequences. The increase in weight misperception in England is alarming and possibly a result of this normalisation.’

    ‘Likewise, the higher prevalence of being overweight and obesity among individuals with lower levels of education and income may contribute to visual normalisation, that is, more regular visual exposure to people with excess weight than their counterparts with higher socioeconomic status have.’

    ‘To achieve effective public health intervention programmes, it is therefore vital to prioritise inequalities in overweight- and obesity-related risks. Identifying those prone to misperceiving their weight can help in designing obesity-prevention strategies targeting the specific needs of different groups.’

    The study has been published in the journal Obesity.