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Study: More Women Than Men Desire Weight Loss

Survey of College Students Shows Only 5% of Women Seeking Weight Loss Are Overweight
WebMD Health News

April 28, 2005 -- A new study is taking a fresh look at men, women, and weight loss.

Past research has shown that women are generally more concerned with appearance, less satisfied with their bodies, more likely to think they're heavier than they actually are, more prone to eating-disorder behaviors, and want to lose more weight than men.

Now, new findings show that college men and women who want to lose weight have several things in common.

However, "more women than men want to lose weight, which is related to a host of body image and eating issues and so, naturally, more women suffer from these issues than do men," says the study, which is due to be published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Men, Women, and the Desire to Lose Weight

"How we feel about our bodies is complex, and we need to understand that it isn't just [about] gender," says researcher Susan Kashubeck-West, PhD, a counseling psychologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She says that because the "vast majority of women want to lose weight," it can appear that men are generally happier with their weight.

But "if you only compare men and women who want to lose weight, many gender differences disappear. We need to focus on the impact of wanting to lose weight," Kashubeck-West tells WebMD.

"There is also pressure in our society to look a certain way. That's so unimportant in the grand scheme of things," she continues. "We would all be better off if we spent less time on how we looked and more on taking care of ourselves and treating our bodies well."

Kashubeck-West's study included 300 college students (136 men and 164 women) at a large West Coast university. They were nearly 19 years old, on average, and were white (62%), Asian-American (23%), black (6%), Hispanic (5%) and other/unknown ethnic identity (4%).

The students completed anonymous questionnaires on topics including desire for weight loss, body image, and diet and exercise strategies. The students also reported their height and weight, which was used to calculate the students' body mass index (BMI).

More Women Said They Wanted to Lose Weight

About 36% of the men (49) and 87% of the women (142) said they wanted to lose weight.

Out of the entire group, about 12% of the men and 4% of the women had a BMI of 25 or higher, which is considered overweight.

Among those who said they wanted to lose weight, "just 5% of the women and 22.5% of the men were actually overweight," says the study.

Other students said they wanted to gain weight or maintain their current weight (87 men and 22 women).

Of the students who wanted to lose weight, men and women both expressed concerns on the overall level of body satisfaction. This was determined by a body parts satisfaction scale, which assessed an individual's feeling toward specific body parts. Both men and women also had concerns with weight and appearance, and time spent exercising.

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