Issues of self-image among overweight African-American and Caucasian adolescent girls: A qualitative study

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Mary Story, Loren Faibisch, Jill Ohlson, Michelle Adamiak

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24 Scopus citations


This study aimed to gather in-depth descriptions of the experiences of overweight adolescent girls to understand how they view themselves and their social context. The study further aimed to compare body and self-image issues among African-American and Caucasian overweight girls. The study population included 50 adolescent girls, aged 14 to 20 years, from junior and senior urban public high schools in St. Paul, MN. Individual interviews, using a semistructured interview guide, were used to gather rich descriptions of experiences. Interviews were taped, transcribed, and coded. Weight issues were central to the manner in which the girls described themselves and their ideal selves. They discussed people-related and clothing-related situations in which they felt self-conscious due to being overweight.Yet, being overweight was clearly not the only aspect of their lives, and they expressed concerns common to many adolescents. Both similarities and differences in attitudes were identified when the African-American and Caucasian girls were compared. African-American and Caucasian girls indicated their desire to be thinner, expressed dissatisfaction with their body shape and body size, and discussed situations in which they felt self-conscious due to their weight. However, the African-American girls were more likely to also discuss the positive aspects of their bodies than the Caucasian girls. Furthermore, specific situations in which the girls felt self-conscious tended to differ across ethnicity. Health care providers need to take the time to discuss both weight-related and non-weight-related concerns of overweight youth in counseling situations and ask about issues of self-image and social interactions in an empathetic manner. Furthermore, since many of the negative statements made by the girls focused on interactions with others, health care providers and educators may want to consider strategies for reaching peers, family members, and others with messages about their potential influence on the overweight adolescent's development. Implications for research on the psychosocial consequences of obesity include assessing domain-specific aspects of self-image.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was made possible through grants fromThe American Heart Association, The Minnesota Obesity Research Center, and The University of Minnesota. Address for correspondence: D~anne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 South Second Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454;Tel: (612) 624-0880; Fax: (612) 624-0315. 01999 SOCIETY FOR NUTRITION EDUCATION


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