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, 13 (10), e0205282

To Be Thin but Not Healthy - The Body-Image Dilemma May Affect Health Among Female University Students in China


To Be Thin but Not Healthy - The Body-Image Dilemma May Affect Health Among Female University Students in China

Lei Zhang et al. PLoS One.


An increasing number of young girls have attached great importance to their body-image in China. Body-image dissatisfaction has resulted in increased weight loss behavior. The aim of this study was to investigate the factors that were associated with underweight body-image in female college students. Self-administered questionnaires were completed by 2,023 young female participants from eight Chinese universities. In addition, 160 participants were involved in a qualitative study. The ideal body-image and the factors that influence weight were determined using descriptive and analytical statistics. We found that 1,484 out of 2,023 participants (73.36%) had taken action to lose weight in the past six months. Among these participants, 618 (30.55%, out of 2023) participants were already underweight, and 1,161 (57.39%, out of 2023) would like to be much thinner, which would lead to more underweight individuals. Moreover, non-scientific physical activity and diets were found to lead participants to the underweight subgroup. The participants' Body Mass Index (BMI), peer advice and western culture influenced the problematic thin-ideal (ideal BMI < 18.5 was considered as the problematic thin-ideal) (P<0.05). Together, western influences leading to the "problematic thin-ideal" and "unhealthy weight-control behavior" have brought about an increased prevalence of desired underweight body-image among female college students in China, which might be harmful for their health.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Cited by 3 PubMed Central articles


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Grant support

This study was sponsored by a grant from Chinese education sciences planning foundation (ALA130003) and Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning (15GWZK1001). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.