South Asian American perspectives on overweight, obesity, and the relationship between weight and health

Tang, J. W.; Mason, M.; Kushner, R. F.; Tirodkar, M. A.; Khurana, N.; Kandula, N. R.

Prev Chronic Dis. 2012 Jun 2; 9:E107


INTRODUCTION: Compared with other racial groups, South Asian adults develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a lower body mass index (BMI). Perceptions of weight and the effect of weight on health can influence weight-loss attempts but are not well described in this population. The objective of this study was to examine perceptions of weight appropriateness and the effect of weight on health among South Asian Americans. METHODS: We recruited 75 South Asian American adults from a single metropolitan area in the Midwestern United States. During individual, face-to-face interviews, we asked participants what they think about their weight and how weight affects their health. We measured their weight and height and calculated BMI. Each interview was audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and translated into English. We conducted analyses using NVivo software. A second investigator coded 20% of interviews to verify coding consensus. RESULTS: Sixty-seven percent of participants were overweight or obese; 40% of overweight participants and 12% of obese participants perceived themselves to be normal weight or underweight. Forty-eight percent of overweight and 82% of obese participants believed their weight affected their health. Participants commonly cited physical problems as being associated with their weight, but few connected their weight with risk for chronic diseases. CONCLUSION: South Asian Americans may underestimate their weight status and the effect of their weight on their risk for chronic diseases. Interventions to promote weight loss among South Asian Americans should focus on modifying perceptions of normal weight and personalizing the relationship between overweight and chronic diseases.

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