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Perceptions of body size in Pacific Islanders


OBJECTIVE: To assess attitudes to body size and obesity in Samoans, a Pacific island group characterised by very high levels of obesity and traditionally strong positive cultural views of large bodies.

DESIGN: Cross sectional study of Samoan adults in Samoa and New Zealand.

SUBJECTS: 84 female and 77 male Samoans in Samoa and 41 female and 24 male Samoans in Auckland, New Zealand, aged 25–55 y.

MEASUREMENT: Body mass index (BMI), standardised survey questionnaires of perceptions of bodyweight and health, diet and exercise, and perception of body sizes on a continuous scale.

RESULTS: Although Samoans in both countries display high population levels of obesity, ideal body sizes are slim and body dissatisfaction and attempted weight losses were apparent. However, women and men above normal weight did not characteristically perceive themselves as obese, were as positive about their body size, weight and health, and obese women were no more likely to be attempting to lose weight than their slimmer peers.

CONCLUSIONS: The traditional Samoan veneration of large bodies is not apparent as ideal body sizes are slim. An important difference in values with Western industrialised societies is the absence of a strongly negative view of obesity.

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Brewis, A., McGarvey, S., Jones, J. et al. Perceptions of body size in Pacific Islanders. Int J Obes 22, 185–189 (1998).

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