Can Body Image Affect Behavior?

Obesity in women may lead them to think and act like they are bigger than they are

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Obese women tend to think of themselves as much larger than they are, but how does this affect the way they live life? 

Obesity is often linked to different health problems, but obesity can take an emotional toll because people often feel isolated or judged by their weight. 

A line of research is showing that some obese women lived their daily lives as if they took up more space than they did. This may give some insight about ways to improve the emotional health for obese women.

"Discuss concerns about your weight with your doctor or therapist."

Ongoing research by Professors Isabel Urdapilleta and Saadi Lalhou, at the University of Paris 8, is looking at how obese versus normal weight women judge their size and how these judgments affect the way obese women act in their daily lives.

In the first study, women were asked to judge their size by using a computer program and a picture of themselves.  They adjusted the picture – bigger or smaller - until they reached the size they perceived themselves to be. Sixty women, who were either normal weight, obese, or severely obese, have participated in this part of the study.

Women of normal weight judged their size to be about 3.1 percent larger than it actually was.  Obese women over-estimated their size by 30 percent, and severely obese women over-estimated by about 47 percent.

In the second part of their research, Urdapilleta and colleagues asked 15 obese and 15 normal weight women to wear cameras throughout the day and looked at how much space the women thought they needed.  They looked at how women walked around objects and how they interacted with other people.

Obese women acted as if they took up more space than they did.  They did things like turn sideways to pass through doors and took wider paths around people and objects.

Together, the researchers say that these findings show some insight into the psychology of obesity. 

The researchers conclude that the mental health of obese women needs to be considered along with physical health concerns.

The study was presented May 10 at the 19th European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France. No conflicts of interest were disclosed. These are preliminary findings; the research is ongoing.

These studies have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists may not have had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 15, 2012
Last Updated:
July 10, 2012