Preconception of Body Shape is Unhealthy

The belief that a person’s weight is mainly linked to genetics and beyond individual control is a dangerous perspective, say researchers.

Experts explain that while the perception that DNA determines weight is highly debated, it appears to be shaping people’s lives.

In a new study, investigators discovered that those who believe that weight is outside of their control have a less healthy body mass index (BMI), make poorer food choices, and report lower levels of personal well-being than those who don’t.

The study findings appear in Health Education and Behavior, a Society for Public Health Education journal.

“If an individual believes weight to be outside of the influence of diet and exercise, she or he may engage in more behaviors that are rewarding in the short term, such as eating unhealthful foods and avoiding exercise, rather than healthful behaviors with more long-term benefits for weight management,” wrote study authors Drs. Mike C. Parent and Jessica L. Alquist.

“By fighting the perception that weight is unchangeable, health care providers may be able to increase healthful behaviors among their patients.”

Analyzing data from both medical and self-reported health measurements of 4,166 men and 4,655 women, the study authors found the following:

  • As people get older, the belief that weight is unchangeable and determined by DNA is associated with less healthy eating behavior. For example, as people age, they are less likely to examine food nutrition labels and to make fruits and vegetables available at home.
  • As people get older, the belief that weight is unchangeable is associated with less exercise.
  • As people get older, the belief that weight is unchangeable is associated with eating more frozen meals (e.g., pizza), restaurant meals, and “ready-to-eat foods” (e.g., deli foods).

“Although previous research has found gender differences in weight as a motivation for exercise and healthful eating, we did not find evidence that gender affected the relationship between health beliefs and physical activity or healthful eating,” wrote the study authors.

“However, we found evidence that the relationship between belief in weight changeability and exercise, healthful eating, and unhealthful eating differs by age.”

Thus, the belief that weight cannot be influenced by diet or exercise or any other behavior become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Source: Sage Publications/EurekAlert

Overweight person sitting on steps photo by shutterstock.