Public Health Nutrition

Biological and behavioural determinants

Associations between weight perceptions, weight control and body fatness in a multiethnic sample of adolescent girls

J Scott Duncana1 c1, Elizabeth K Duncana1 and Grant Schofielda1

a1 Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Auckland University of Technology, Private Bag 92006, Auckland, New Zealand


Objective The purpose of the present study was to examine the interactions between weight perceptions, weight control behaviours and body fatness in a multiethnic sample of adolescent girls.

Design A cross-sectional study.

Setting Girls from European (37·7 %), Pacific Island (21·6 %), East Asian (15·8 %), Maori (10·2 %) and South Asian (9·6 %) populations and from other ethnicities (5·0 %).

Subjects A sample of 954 girls aged 11–15 years participated in the study. BMI was derived from height and weight, whereas body fat (BF) was determined from hand-to-foot bioimpedance measurements. Weight perceptions, weight control behaviours and pubertal stage were assessed by questionnaire.

Results Body size and fatness varied significantly across ethnic groups. Although few differences in weight perceptions were observed between BMI and %BF percentile groups, a relatively high degree of weight misclassification was evident across all BF categories. The number of girls trying to lose weight exceeded those who perceived themselves as being overweight, with the magnitude of the difference dependent on ethnicity. Of the girls trying to lose weight, the combination of dieting and exercise was the most common weight loss practice; however, a substantial proportion reported neither exercise nor dieting. Weight status perception was a stronger predictor of weight loss intent than actual BF when controlling for all other factors.

Conclusions Interventions and educational campaigns that assist girls in recognising a state of excess BF are a priority for all ethnic groups to increase the likelihood that behavioural changes necessary to combat widespread overweight and obesity are adopted.

(Received July 13 2009)

(Accepted January 13 2010)

(Online publication March 01 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email