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Norms and attitudes to body fatness: a European comparison

Population and Societies

455, April 2009

The growing problem of obesity is a major public health issue in many industrialized countries. As overweight becomes a greater focus of attention, how do individuals assess their own body fatness? Do men and women see things in the same way? Do perceptions differ across Europe? After describing the variations in mean body mass index between countries, Thibaut de Saint Pol analyses the way European men and women perceive their own body.
Although average body fatness, measured by the body mass index (BMI) is 23.2 for French women and 26.2 for British women, their reported ideal weight is lower, standing at 19.5 in France and 20.7 in the United Kingdom. Underweight is more highly prized by French women than by women elsewhere in Europe. European women in general are more dissatisified with their weight than men, for whom underweight has negative associations. In France, ideal male BMI is 22.0 (the level at which the proportion considering themselves overweight equals the proportion considering themselves underweight), compared with 22.5 in the United Kingdom, 22.8 in Denmark and as high as 23.4 in Greece.

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