Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Body image perception in relation to recent weight changes and strategies for weight loss in a nationally representative sample in the European Union

Sinead McElhonea1, John M Kearneya1, Ismene Giachettia2, Hans-Joachim Franz Zunfta3 and J Alfredo Martíneza4

a1 Institute of European Food Studies Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland

a2 CNERNA–CNRS, 16 rue Claude Bernard, 75005 Paris, France

a3 German Institute of Human Nutrition, Arthur-Scheunert-ALlee 144-166, D-14558 Bergholz-Rehbruecke, Germany

a4 Universidad de Navarra, Departmento Fisiologia y Nutricion, 31008 Pamplona, Spain


Objectives To assess body image perception and satisfaction with current body image across the EU and to explore the influence of sociodemographic variables, body-weight change and strategies for losing weight on body image perception.

Design A cross-sectional study in which quota-controlled, nationally representative samples of approximately 1000 adults from each country completed a face-to-face interview-assisted questionnaire.

Setting The survey was conducted in the 15 member states of the EU between March and April 1997.

Subjects The questionnaire was completed by 15 239 subjects (aged 15 years and upwards). Data were weighted by population size for each country and by sex, age and regional distribution within each member state.

Results Just 39% of respondents in the EU were satisfied with their weight and these were more likely to be male (46%) rather than female (31%). Across the EU 29% of Finnish subjects were content with their weight compared with 47% in Belgium and 48% in Luxembourg. The highest percentage of subjects who were content with their body weight was among females who were underweight (58%) and males who were normal weight (66%). A further 20% of underweight females wished to be lighter compared to only 5% of males. Diet was the most frequently selected method for losing weight especially among females wishing to be considerably lighter (27%) while males were as likely to use exercise as diet as a strategy to lose weight.

Conclusions Geographical and sociodemographical influences on body image perception are evident across the EU. There were clear gender differences in the desire to be thinner with a high proportion of females who were underweight being content to be so.