April 28, 2006

How much do we internalize what others think of our weight?

Case senior finds new way to measure the body consciousness during senior project


A graduating senior from Case Western Reserve University doing an honors thesis in psychology found a way to measure whether the perception of young women's reported idealized weight matches their actual weight by using the ratios from Body Mass Index (BMI).

Amanda Moskowitz, a dual Case and Cleveland Institute of Music degree student from Oceanside, N.Y., said she wanted to examine women's attitudes towards their body image, what they perceived to be an ideal body image and how these attitudes affect their body consciousness.

"This relatively normal group of women were generally satisfied with their weight but still wanted to be thinner," determined Moskowitz after reviewing answers to a 48-question survey given to 104 female students in psychology classes at a Midwestern university.

They rated their agreeability to such statements as "Most women who can't control their weight, feel like something is wrong with them," "I rarely think about how I look," and "When most women are not the size they think they should be, they feel ashamed."

From their responses, Moskowitz found that "students felt other women were more concerned about their weight than the individual was."

But Moskowitz said after making a ratio calculation between ideal and actual BMI, she found that in fact they actually felt they should be thinner.

A normal and healthy BMI ranges between 20 and 24.9.

The study's participants had BMI scores from 16 to 40, with the lower number in the range for someone has a borderline eating disorder like anorexia or a health problem and the upper number for someone who is obese. Students weighed between 90 to 240 pounds, with an average weight of 134.7. They also averaged 64 inches in height.

Their average BMI score was 22.5, with a reported ideal BMI score of 20.5, supporting the view that they wanted to be thinner, said Moskowitz.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the BMI score is a number calculated from a person's weight and height and is an indicator of body fatness. The formula used to determine a BMI score is weight in pounds divided by [height in inches]2 multiplied by 703.

"The ratio we developed is more sensitive to the effects of body mass on self image because it captures any discrepancy a person may have between what their actual body mass is and what they believe it should be. In some sense, it reflects a displeasure with the way things are and the way one would wish them to be," said Joseph Fagan, professor of psychology and Moskowitz's advisor and project mentor.

How they calculated the difference between the actual and ideal BMI score was to divide the ideal by the actual BMI score. If the answer was one, they both matched in actual and idealized weight. If the number was less than one, then the students wanted to be thinner. If the score was higher than one, then the students wanted to gain weight.

"The results tell us that if one's Ideal BMI departs greatly from one's actual BMI, then their attitudes towards body consciousness and the attitudes they believe others have about body consciousness also depart from the norm," she said.

Moskowitz has presented her findings at the Fifth Annual Interdisciplinary Conference for Behavioral Sciences at Mount Union College, the 20th Annual Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference at Baldwin-Wallace College and during Case's Research ShowCase.

She did the study in preparation for her bachelor's of arts degree in psychology from Case. She also will earn her bachelor's of music from the Cleveland Institute of Music in May.

Her interest in studying weight and body conscious stems from a struggle with a weight problem since childhood and also the increase in childhood obesity now prevalent throughout the country.

She said, "I am amazed at the spectrum of unhealthy eating issues of normal weight women where society views them as normal but they have internalized a weight problem."

In addition to studying psychology, Moskowitz is an accomplished French horn player with a 4.0 grade point average at the music institute.

During a summer psychology class at Nassau Community College in her freshman year, her career path took a turn to psychology.

"I was really interested in what I was learning. I wanted to take advantage of the academic offerings at Case," said Moskowitz, who is one of the few CIM students to earn degrees from both institutions through a special education agreement.

By combining a grueling schedule of ensemble performance classes at CIM that prepare students for orchestra jobs and an additional 67 hours of academic studies at Case—an average of 22 hours a semester over two years—she has qualified for a degree in psychology with a minor in childhood studies as well as her degree from CIM.

She hopes to spend the next year working in a children's hospital and continuing with graduate studies in psychology. Her eventual goal is to become a clinical psychologist working with children.

Over the past summer, she has been involved in research projects at University Hospitals of Cleveland's Center for Chronic Conditions of Childhood at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital that involve children with asthma, diabetes and cancer.

Moskowitz has played the French horn since the age of eight, with studies also at the Julliard School of Music in New York City. In her free time, she plans to continue playing, but with amateur or professional orchestras as a hobby.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, April 28, 2006 05:00 AM | News Topics: College of Arts and Sciences, Healthcare, Research

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