Weight Perception and Weight-related Sociocultural and Behavioral Factors in Chinese Adolescents

Document Type



Community and Global Health (CGU)

Publication Date



Cognition and Perception | Health Psychology | Mental and Social Health | Substance Abuse and Addiction



Rapid economic development accompanied by imported Western media, advertising, fashion, and lifestyle in mainland China has resulted in shifts in cultural beliefs and beauty ideals in adolescents. The present study focused on understanding relationships among weight perception and weight-related sociocultural and behavioral factors in Chinese adolescents.


Data collected in 2002 from 6863 middle and high school students and their parents from four large cities in mainland China were used. Weight status was determined by measured weight and height. Weight perception, media exposure, attitudes, and health behaviors were assessed by a structured questionnaire survey.


Boys were more likely to describe themselves as either too thin or relatively thin than girls (37.32% vs. 18.79%), while girls more often considered themselves either relatively heavy or too heavy than boys (50.83% vs. 26.54%). Girls who were actually normal or underweight were more likely than boys to describe themselves as either relatively heavy or very heavy (41.6% vs. 11.6%), while boys who were actually normal or overweight were more likely than girls to believe themselves as underweight (30.9% vs. 15.7%). Girls who were frequently exposed to media from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and placed high value on their physical appearance, were more likely to be dissatisfied with their body weight, which in turn were more likely to restrict consumption of certain foods, smoke cigarettes, and drink alcohol. Similar results were not observed in boys.


Weight dissatisfaction was prevalent in Chinese adolescents and was significantly related to media exposure, attitudes towards physical appearance, and adoption of certain health-risk behaviors in girls. Our findings underscore the importance of sociocultural influences in shaping realistic body image and have implications for prevention and early intervention for establishing health behavioral practices during adolescence.

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© 2006 Elsevier Inc.