Today’s Healthy Outlook with Jennifer Foss, RN

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Researchers report that women’s and men’s perceptions of their bodies differ.

In a recent survey of 813 adults ages 19 to 39 conducted by Psychology of Men & Masculinity journal, women of normal weight tended to perceive themselves as overweight, while normal-weight men often perceived themselves as too skinny. In addition, nearly half of the men assessed as overweight perceived themselves to be of normal weight.

What creates the distorted self-image? Researchers theorize that societal influences such as the media, which provides thinner-than-average role models for women and bulkier-than-normal examples for men, may be largely responsible. Consider these examples from the National Eating Disorders Association:

  • The average American woman is 5’4″ tall and weighs 140 pounds, yet the average American female model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds.
  • Most fashion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.
  • Almost half of American elementary school students in the first through third grades want to be thinner.
  • Four out of five children at the age of 10 are afraid of being fat.

Tipping the Scales

With our society’s obsession over body image, you might think Americans would be lean, mean, physically fit machines. The surgeon general reports, however, that a staggering 61 percent of American adults are overweight, and three out of 10 U.S. adults are obese.

Part of the problem comes from inactivity and the tendency to look for a “quick fix.” Americans spend more than $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year, according to the National Eating Disorders Association Yet, according to the surgeon general, only one third of U.S. adults follow experts’ recommendations and exercise for 30 minutes, five days per week. Carrying extra pounds leads to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, depression and cancer.

Weighing in Accurately

So how can Americans get an accurate assessment of their health? To determine whether you are a healthful weight, don’t compare yourself to people around you or in the media. Instead, check your body mass index (BMI) at This tool, based on data from the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, helps measure fatness. It doesn’t take into account lean muscle mass, however, so athletes and body builders may get faulty results. Also, keep in mind that the BMI is not meant as a substitute for a professional medical assessment.

Recognizing the True You

Once you have accepted that the media portrayal of body weight is unrealistic, you may wonder how to define good health and an ideal body shape. The American College of Sports Medicine defines physical fitness as a combination of cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. By focusing on getting an adequate combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching and sleep, and by eating properly, you can enjoy increased energy, stamina and improved health. And while today’s actors, models and rock stars will be forgotten tomorrow, being fit never goes out of style.

Courtesy of ARA Content