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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Prevalence of Obesity, Weight Perceptions and Weight Control Practices among Urban College going Girls

Author(s): Ms. Little Flower Augustine, Mrs. Rashmi H. Poojara

Vol. 28, No. 4 (2003-10 - 2003-12)

Deptt. of Home Science, St. Teresa's College, Ernakulam


Research questions: 1. What is the prevalence of obesity among college girls in Ernakulam? 2. What are the perceptions and practices about weight and weight control among them?

Objectives: 1. To study the prevalence of obesity by anthropometry. 2. To obtain an insight on weight perceptions and compare actual with perceived weight.

Study design: Cross-sectional.

Setting and participants: Urban college girls, age group of 17-18 years residing in Ernakulam. Sample size was 200.

Statistical analysis: Percentages and mean.

Results: Prevalence of overweight by standard weight-for-height and BMI (>23) was 24%. Overall, 65% of subjects worried about body weight of whom 46% were underweight. 41% of subjects reported missing breakfast on weekdays. There was a distinct difference between the actual and perceived weight status.

Conclusions: Strange weight control practices are rampant among the subjects.

Key Words: Obesity, Weight perceptions, Weight control practices, Urban setup


Adolescents becoming over conscious of their body image and exhibiting strange eating behaviours is no longer a myth but a harsh reality. For both socio-cultural and psychological reasons, considerable emphasis is being placed on weight and appearance. Obesity is also on the rise with excessive consumption of processed foods and high fat diets.

False preoccupation about the body has become a major concern since it has led to several unhealthy dietary practices. It has been reported that adolescent girls feeling overweight were more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control practices than those who reported feeling that they were of normal weight or underweight.

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted among 17-19 year old girls residing in and around Ernakulam. 200 subjects were selected, majority on their willingness to cooperate with the study. Height, weight and body mass index were the anthropometric parameters assessed. Height and weight were measured using the standard procedures suggested by Jelliffe (1966)1. A semi-structured pre-tested interview schedule was administered to a randomly selected sub-sample of 100 subjects to elicit information on dietary habits and weight perceptions.


A total of 200 girls were screened for prevalence of obesity.

Table I: Prevalence of overweight by standard weight for height (n=200).

Age n Mean Weight in Kg ±SD Underweight* Normal** Overweight***
No. % No. % No. %
17 71 51 ±7.34 26 36 30 42 15 22
18 66 50 ±7.12 23 35 26 40 17 26
19 63 52 ±6.70 13 21 35 55 15 24
Total 200 50 ±7.05 62 31 91 46 47 24

*<90% Standard weight for height; **90-l 10% Standard weight for height; ***>110% Standard weight for height

Overall 24% of the subjects had greater than 10% standard weight which could be considered as overweight.

Table II: Prevalence of obesity by Body Mass Index (n=200)

BMI cut-off points Significance No. %
<18.5 Chroonic energy deficiency 43 21.5
18.5 - 19.9 Low weight but normal 42 21
20 - 22.9 normal 66 33
23 - 24.9 Overweight 28 14
>25 Obese 21 10.5

In a recent report of WHO, a BMI cut-off of >23 has been suggested as indicative of overweight for Asia-Pacific inhabitants due to their greater fat deposits (WHO Regional Report, 2000)2

The prevalence of overweight by standard weight for height was 24% and prevalence of overweight and obesity by recent BMI cut-off points was also around 24%.

Table III: Actual versus perceived weight status (n=100).

Category Actual (%) Perceived (%)
Underweight 13 11
Normal 54 38
Overweight 33 51

The actual versus perceived weight status information showed that more subjects perceived themselves to be overweight. This is indicative of a general trend among college girls to be more slim.

Table IV: Weight perceptions of subjects.

Criteria BMI Grouping
Underweight<18.5 Normal 18.5 - 23 Overweight 23 - 25 Obese >25
No. % No. % No. % No. %
Body Image
TooThin 2 15 0 0 0 0 0 0
Thin 4 31 5 9 0 0 0 0
Normal 3 23 24 44 8 44 3 20
Fat 4 31 25 47 10 56 10 66
Too fat 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 14
Desired Weight
Little heavier 3 23 3 5 0 0 0 0
Present weight 6 26 16 30 1 6 1 7
little lighter 4 31 29 54 6 33 2 13
Lot Lighter 0 0 6 11 11 61 12 80
Ever felt overweight
Yes 2 15 23 43 17 94 13 87
No 11 85 31 57 1 6 2 13

The actual versus perceived weight status information showed that more subjects perceived themselves to be overweight. This is indicative of a general trend among college girls to be more slim.

As many as half the subjects had a perceived body image as "Fat" and desired changes in the perceived body image.

Table V: Weight control practices among subjects.

Practice % Positive response
  Underweight Normal Overweight Obese
Ever tried losing weight? 39 57 89 93
Influence of Media on Weight loss 8 24 28 40
Starting dieting in past month 15 35 56 73
Currently trying to lose weight 0 33 61 61

Surprisingly even underweight subjects had tried to lose weight, and 15% of underweight, subjects were dieting. Overall 71% of subjects had tried to lose weight at least once.

Table VI: Weight loss plans among subjects.

Practice No. %
Exercise 15 21.2
Skipping a meal 14 19.7
Not eating between meals 12 16.9
Starvation 11 15.5
Starving once in a week 6 8.5
Skipping snacks 5 7.11
Binge eating 4 5.6
Diet Pills 1 1.4
Others 3 4.2
Total 71 100

The weight loss plans among subjects included exercise (21%), meal skipping (20%), starvation (16%), binge eating (6%) and diet pills (2%). Breakfast was the most commonly skipped meal among the respondents (41%). Of these subjects 24% skipped breakfast with an intention of weight loss, which in turn may result in impaired cognitive ability during college hours.

Daily weighing of body weight, intensive exercise and treatment at weight loss centres fascinated many of the subjects.

There was a noticeable preference among the subjects for junk foods, aerated beverages and ice creams, as evident from the food frequency pattern.


Undernutrition and infections had been the major causes of morbidity and mortality in developing countries like India. But today's scenario suggests the emergence of degenerative diseases, the root cause being overnutrition or obesity. WHO3 had reported that prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide

Weight & weight control: perceptions and practices among girls including the developing countries. The present study also agreed with the report showing a 10.5% prevalence of obesity and 24% overweight as per the BMI and weight for height standards. Kapil et al4(2002) had also reported a 7.4% prevalence of obesity in affluent adolescent school children in Delhi. Recent studies conducted by Kapur and Sethi5 also emphasize the emergence of obesity as an epidemic among the adolescents of India.

Prevalence of faulty body images were observed among the respondents. More than half of the girls perceived themselves as fat while only one-third were actually overweight. Earlier studies by Levy and Heaton6 and Story et al7 have also reported the prevalence of faulty body images among college-girls.

Girls belonging to all weight categories desired weight loss (51%). Even underweight girls perceived themselves as fat (31%). Maloney8 have also reported in his study that 75% of the girls he surveyed perceived themselves to be overweight.

It was found that only 24% of girls were satisfied with their current weight. More than half (65%) of the girls belonging to various weight categories desired weight loss. Studies conducted by Ash and McClelland9 have reported that a vast majority of subjects under their study listed a desirable weight loss. 65% of subjects were worried about being overweight. Lindberg and O'Neil10 have also reported that majority of the respondents in his study were bothered about being overweight.

It was found that 71% of the girls had tried atleast once to lose weight. Sztainer and Hannan11 have also reported that half of the girls under their study were trying to lose weight. The findings emphasize strong societal prejudice against overweight.

The knowledge regarding weight control practices showed quite controversial results. The results emphasized on the willingness of the subjects to try and practice for weight loss irrespective of its appropriateness. The practices included drinking water before each meal and binge eating.

The food consumption pattern of the subjects revealed a habitual skipping of breakfast which in turn could result in impaired cognitive ability during the college hours. The high popularity of junk foods and carbonated beverages were likely to precipitate obesity, being less dense in nutrients and by contributing calories. Ravi and Truman12 have also reported a high consumption of junk foods and carbonated beverages among adolescents.

Nutrition and Health Education (NHE) for college girls on obesity and healthy food habits will give a great impact on improving the overall health and nutritional status.


The authors express their sincere gratitude to Dr. K.S. Kumari, Head, Department of Home Science, St. Teresa's College, Ernakulam for her continued encouragement and support during the course of this study. The authors wish to thank the N.I.N. Library for furnishing valuable information and all the sampling units who volunteered for the study.


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  4. Indian Journal of Community Medicine Vol. XXVIII, No.4, Oct.-Dec, 2003
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