The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
DL, the PI developed the research idea, conceptualised and compiled the project, directed data collection, entry and analysis. WP assisted in the conceptualization and compilation of the project, managed data collection, entry and analysis. ZM assisted in the conceptualization and compilation of the survey and gave technical support to the project – also assisted in data analysis. RS and TK analysed data. DL, WP, ZM, MM, TK, RS conceptualized the presentation of the data in the manuscript and were all involved in writing the manuscript and had final approval of the submitted and published version.
South African studies have suggested that differences in obesity prevalence between groups may be partly related to differences in body image and body size dissatisfaction. However, there has never been a national study that measured body image and its relationship to weight control in the country. Hence, the main aim of the study was to examine body image in relation to body mass index and weight control in South Africa.
A cross-sectional survey and a secondary analyses of data were undertaken for 6 411 South Africans (15+ years) participating in the first South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Body image was investigated in relation to weight status and attempts to lose or gain weight. Data were analysed using STATA version 11.0. Descriptive statistics are presented as counts (numbers), percentages, means, standard error of means, and 95 % confidence intervals. Any differences in values were considered to be significantly different if the confidence intervals did not overlap.
Overall, 84.5 % participants had a largely distorted body image and 45.3 % were highly dissatisfied about their body size. Overweight and obese participants under estimated their body size and desired to be thinner. On the other hand, normal- and under-weight participants over estimated their body size and desired to be fatter. Only 12.1 and 10.1 % of participants attempted to lose or gain weight, respectively, mainly by adjusting dietary intake and physical activity.
Body mass index appears to influence body image and weight adjustment in South Africa.
South Africans at the extreme ends of the body mass index range have a largely distorted body image and are highly dissatisfied by it. This suggests a need for health education and beneficial weight control strategies to halt the obesity epidemic in the country.