Differences in weight perception among blacks and whites

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2011 Dec;20(12):1805-11. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2010.2262. Epub 2011 Oct 11.


Background: The prevalence of obesity is higher in blacks than whites, especially in black women, and is known to be associated with major cardiovascular disease risk factors, which are also more prevalent in blacks than whites. Weight perception may contribute to these differences if blacks are more likely to underestimate their weight. We explored race and gender differences in underestimation of weight using body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC), after adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors.

Methods and results: We studied 219 white and 240 black women and men as part of the META-Health Study. Perceived weight was assessed over the phone and categorized into three categories: underweight or normal weight, overweight, or obesity. Height, weight, and WC were measured at a subsequent visit, and BMI was calculated. Logistic regression was used to compare the likelihood of underestimating actual weight category by race, before and after adjusting for sociodemographic, lifestyle factors, and medical history. In multivariate analysis, the odds of underestimating BMI category was greater than threefold in blacks compared with whites (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.9-4.8) and was larger for black women than for black men (p<0.01 for interaction). When abdominal adiposity was taken into account by utilizing WC as a measure of weight, the observed difference in weight underestimation remained.

Conclusion: Our data reveal a significant misperception of weight among blacks, particularly black women, who have the highest burden of obesity. A multifaceted approach with efficient identification of social, cultural, and environmental factors that give rise to obesity tolerance in blacks will provide potential targets for intervention, which may ameliorate weight misperception and the prevalence of excess weight in the black population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Body Constitution
  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Style / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Women's Health / ethnology*
  • Young Adult