The relationship between body image and physical activity in African American women

Scherezade K Mama, The University of Texas School of Public Health


High rates of overweight and obesity in African American women have been attributed, in part, to poor health habits, such as physical inactivity, and cultural influences on body image perceptions. The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship among body mass index (BMI=kg/m2), body image perception (perceived and desired) and physical activity, both self-reported and objectively measured. Anthropometric measures of BMI and Pulvers' culturally relevant body image, physical activity and demographic data were collected from 249 African American women in Houston. Women ( M = 44.8 yrs, SD = 9.5) were educated (53% college graduates) and were overweight (M = 35.0 kg/m2, SD = 9.2). Less than half of women perceived their weight correctly regardless of their actual weight (p < 0.001). Nearly three-fourths (73.9%) of women who were normal weight desired to be obese, and only 39.4% of women desired to be normal weight, regardless of actual or perceived weight. Women in all weight classes (normal, overweight and obese) varied in objective measures of physical activity (F(2,112) = 4.424, p = .014). Regression analyses showed objectively measured physical activity was significantly associated with BMI ( Beta = -2.45, p < .01) and self-reported walking was significantly associated with perceived BMI (Beta = -.156, p = .017). Results suggest African American women who are smaller want to be larger and African American women who are larger want to be smaller, revealing dichotomous distortion in body images. Low rates of physical activity may be a factor. Research is needed to increase physical activity levels in African American women, leading to improved satisfaction with normal weight as desirable for health and beauty. Supported by NCI (NIH) 1R01CA109403.

Subject Area

Public health|Kinesiology

Recommended Citation

Mama, Scherezade K, "The relationship between body image and physical activity in African American women" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1463620.