Despite the common perception that young women are quick to notice weight gain, young women often fail to recognize a recent gain of even 11 pounds, say researchers.
Being self-aware of weight gain is found to be significantly influenced by race, ethnicity and contraceptive methods.
At six-month intervals throughout a total of 36 months, 466 women with an average age of 25 completed a symptom checklist that included questions on whether they felt they had gained weight; a significant number of these did not recognize any recent gains. Researchers believe this may put them at risk for cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related problems.
Nearly one-third of women did not recognize a gain of approximately 5 pounds, and one-quarter were not aware of a gain of 9 pounds.
However, black women and DMPA users (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, commonly known as the birth control shot) were more likely than the others to notice weight gain.
About 37 percent of the participants were Hispanic, 35 percent non-Hispanic white and 29 percent non-Hispanic black women. Roughly 39 percent of the women used DMPA, 36 percent used an oral contraceptive and 25 percent were non-hormonal contraceptive users.
This is thought to be the first study to investigate how accurate self-perception is concerning recent weight gain. The results add to a growing body of research on actual weight gain and awareness of weight among reproductive-aged women, with a focus on the association between contraception use and weight gain.
The researchers evaluated data on height, BMI, physical activity and whether or not the women had ever given birth, among other potential factors.
“We were surprised to find that race and ethnicity are determinants of accurate recognition of weight gain, predictors that have never before been reported,” said lead author Dr. Mahbubur Rahman, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Texas Medical Branch.
He notes that further studies using detailed measures that include cultural, psychological and perceptual aspects of weight change in women are needed to explore this relationship.
Regarding the fact that DMPA users were more likely to notice weight gain, Rahman suggests this may be attributed to the fact that DMPA has been widely reported to be associated with weight gain and that users may be more mindful about weight.
“In prior studies, we’ve reported that one-quarter of reproductive-age women who are overweight or obese consider themselves to be normal weight. Misperception of actual weight coupled with inaccuracies in self-perception of weight gain is a threat to the success of obesity prevention programs,” said Rahman. “Changing a health behavior depends on patients understanding susceptibility to a health problem.”
Rahman suggests women weigh themselves on a regular basis to be aware of any significant changes. He believes the findings, though not based on a random sample and therefore not particularly representative of all women, may help clinicians while counseling reproductive-age women about obesity and weight loss.
The study is published online and in the March issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.