Research Activities March 2013, No. 391
South Asians may not perceive themselves as being overweight or obese
Racial and ethnic identities may influence what is considered to be an acceptable weight in certain communities. A new study reveals that South Asian Americans, despite having a high risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease starting at a lower body mass index (BMI) than other racial groups, may not appropriately perceive themselves as being overweight or obese. They also may not be aware of the relationship between their weight and chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes. Researchers interviewed 75 South Asian Americans from a health center and a community center that provided immigrant services. During the interviews, the participants were asked what they thought of their weight and how it affects their health and well-being. Their height, weight, and BMI were also measured.
Responses showed that this group perceived themselves as having a normal weight, even when overweight or obese. Overall, 40 percent of participants were overweight; 27 percent were obese. Among those who were overweight, 40 percent believed they had a normal weight or were underweight. Among those who were obese, 12 percent had similar incorrect assumptions. Nearly half (48 percent) of overweight and 82 percent of obese individuals felt that their health was affected by the excess weight. They cited physical problems, such as shortness of breath and joint pain. However, few recognized the link between being overweight or obese and the risk of developing a chronic disease. The researchers suggest that interventions to promote weight loss will need to start by reforming misperceptions about a healthy weight. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00078).
See "South Asian American perspectives on overweight, obesity, and the relationship between weight and health," by Joyce W. Tang, M.D., Maryann Mason, Ph.D., Robert F. Kushner, M.D., and others in Preventing Chronic Disease 9, pp. 1-9, 2012.