Topical Area: Community and Public Health Nutrition
Objectives : The purpose of this study was to explore the extent of weight misperception in college students.
Methods : A 21-item electronic survey was sent to undergraduate students in selected general education classes at a Midwestern University. The survey was tested for face, content, & construct validity. Based on a power analysis (99% confidence level & 5% margin of error), 643 completed surveys were required to ensure adequate external validity for the entire population of students in the University (n=20,000).
Results : A total of 1145 students completed the survey (response rate=77%). Majority were White (76%), females (65%), 18-20 years (72%), first or second year students (69%), pursuing a non-health related degree (60%). Based on BMI, 34% were overweight. When asked about weight perception- 37% felt they were overweight, 50% were attempting to lose weight, but the majority (65%) did not believe their body weight was a health problem & did not have their waist circumference assessed in the past year (78%). Based on actual BMI & perceived weight, all participants were grouped into four distinct categories [true negative (53%) = normal BMI/accurate weight perception; false negative (8%) = high BMI/weight underestimation; false positive (12%) = normal BMI/weight overestimation; & true positive (27%) = high BMI/accurate weight perception]. Statistically significant differences were observed based on age, gender, & race in weight misperception with younger, females, & Hispanic students more likely to overestimate their weight & older, black, & male students more likely to underestimate their weight (p< 0.05). Older white students were least likely to have weight related misperception. In regression analysis weight misperception was a significant predictor of weight loss attempts (even if weight loss was not required) & the belief that body weight was a major health problem. Academic major & general health status were additional significant predictors of body weight & weight misperception.
Weight misperception has been shown to be associated with a variety of risk factors (e.g. unhealthy weight loss methods & eating disorders). Evidence-based educational interventions tailored to the unique population of college students should be implemented for appropriate weight management.
Funding Sources : No funding was received for this study