August 1, 2014

Ethnic and gender differences in ideal body size and related attitudes among Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Whites

Claire Townsend M.P.H., Julie Y. Takishima-Lacasa M.A., Janet D. Latner Ph.D., Andrew Grandinetti Ph.D., Joseph Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula Ph.D.

Hawai‘i Journal of Medicine & Public Health

Often overlooked explanations for the varied obesity rates across ethno-cultural groups include differences in attitudes toward excess weight, with certain populations assumed to have larger ideal body sizes (IBS). Past studies found ethnic and gender difference in IBS across and within different groups. This study examined the effects of ethnicity and gender, and their interaction, in accounting for differences in IBS and attitudes toward those ideals. Multiple regression analyses were used to better understand the effects of ethnicity and gender in accounting for differences in perceived IBS according to ethnic-specific and Western ideals and attitudes in 1,124 people of Native Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, and White ancestry. The analyses controlled for socio-demographics, body mass index, health-related behaviors, and psychosocial variables. The results indicated that Native Hawaiians selected larger ethnic IBS, Filipinos selected smaller ethnic IBS, and Native Hawaiians selected slightly smaller Western IBS than other ethnic groups. Overall, males selected larger IBS compared to females. Interaction analyses indicated that the relationship between ethnic IBS and attitude toward that IBS varied as a function of ethnicity, such that Native Hawaiians who selected a larger ethnic IBS held less favorable attitudes toward that IBS. The discrepancy between Native Hawaiians’ selection of larger ethnic IBS as ideal and their less positive attitude toward that selection warrants more investigation. However, it does suggest that Native Hawaiians, on a personal level, do not prefer larger body sizes, which contradicts their perceptions of social norms. These findings have important implications for obesity interventions among Native Hawaiians.

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