The interplay between gender, race and weight status: Self perceptions and social consequences

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▸ There are large racial and gender differences in obesity rates in the US. ▸ Little is known about the potential role of relative social benefits and consequences in producing these specific obesity differentials. ▸ This paper shows that black women receive smaller penalties than white women, white men, and black men for being obese.

This paper uses data from nearly 15,000 young adult respondents to the Add Health survey to examine racial and gender differences in the perceptions and social rewards to weight. The data include information on several typically unmeasured domains: self-perceptions of ideal weight, attractiveness ratings, and measured weight information, along with ties to a series of adult outcomes. Results show important gender and racial differences in ideal weight as well as differences for both self-perceived attractiveness and interviewer rated attractiveness. Findings also suggest the existence of large differences in socio-cultural rewards and sanctions for weight status. Black respondents, particularly women, appear to receive lower “obesity penalties” in both their self-perceived and interviewer accessed attractiveness ratings than other groups. These findings suggest the need to consider new classes of policies directed at shifting relative social benefits and consequences to weight status.

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