A recent research study was conducted by a few from the BYU-Idaho Psychology Department. The research paper is titled Investigating BMI Discrepancies in Subjective and Objective Reports among College Students. The study focuses on how students today see their body images.
Robert R. Wright, Ph.D. Director, Health Psychology Emphasis Psychology Department, is one of the researchers of this paper.
“I’ve noticed that the health of students is not great,” Wright said. “What I mean by health is they are not making the best decisions about how they eat, about their exercise and sleep. Then throw in the trump of stress and you get the negative outcomes that come from this, but specifically I wanted to look at how people perceive their bodies. I was interested in how people see their height and weight.”
A survey was sent out during five semesters to general psychology students. After the survey, the students went to a lab and had their weight, height and body fat percentage measured. Both the lab and the surveys were compared to show where their BMI was, where they wanted it to be, and where the students thought it was at.
“Not surprising people were off about the estimates in their height and weight,” said Wright.
According to the research paper, both genders wanted to drop their BMI, but in different ways. It said that men wanted to be taller more than women did, whereas women wanted to lose weight more than men.
“It’s a little discouraging to think so many, especially young ladies, on campus, feel they need to lose weight,” Wright said.
While media is a strong influence both genders have also been affected by the thin-body ideal. The paper explains that women want to lose weight mostly because they believe it is an expectation held by men, other women and the society while men want to fit in with the more masculine ideal.
“I don’t think we always realize the impact it has on actual people. To see those stereotypes reinforced in the desires of our students was eye-opening in terms of how we are influenced by the images we see in the media,” Wright said.
As students start the college lifestyle, they tend to change their eating habits. They change their diets and physical activity which contribute to an unhealthy spike in body mass index from weight gain. According to the research, body weight continues to rise until graduation, with some studies reporting as many as 70 percent of students demonstrating a significant increase in weight and body fat percentage. Discouragingly, on average, this continued increase in weight is even more extreme than the initial jump during freshman year.
“I hope that this research will serve to inform college students, health professionals, and university employees in the decisions they make for themselves and for their campuses. When we know how students are impacted by stereotypes, we can help them better with their health decisions,” said Jennifer Lindsay, from the psychology department.
According to Wright, a way that could help students overcome this is by becoming aware of the change needed to be done. One way is realizing that listening to society is not necessary.
“You are not confined to some number on a scale. You are worth more than that. Health behaviors is a way to better improve health, small and simple things. Diet, sleep, exercise, and socializing. Education and small and simple changes,” Wright said.