Body image concerns: levels, correlates and gender differences among students in the United Kingdom

Walid El Ansari, Emily Dibba, Christiane Stock
Central European Journal of Public Health 2014, 22 (2): 106-17

AIMS: This cross-sectional study aimed to determine the socio-demographic, lifestyle and well-being variables that are associated with body image concerns (BIC) and whether these associations differed between female and male students.

METHODS: A cross-sectional survey; 3,706 undergraduate students (2,699 females, 765 males) from seven universities in the UK completed a self-administered questionnaire that assessed socio-demographic, lifestyle, well-being and BIC based on the Body Shape Questionnaire developed by Cooper et al. Multifactorial logistic regression analysis examined the odds ratios for the association between four increasing levels of BIC as the dependent variables (no BIC, mild BIC, moderate BIC and marked BIC) on the one hand, and the socio-demographic (gender, age, year at university), lifestyle (physical activity, nutrition) and mental well-being variables (quality of life, perceived stress, perceived health, depressive symptoms) on the other.

RESULTS: More females (35%) than males (8%) reported being moderately or markedly concerned with their body image. For both genders, BIC was associated with a higher level of depressive symptoms and to variable extents, with nutrition and year at university. Females' BICs were exclusively associated with low perceived health, higher perceived stress, studies in general as a stressor, and low physical activity. In contrast, males' BIC were found to be exclusively associated with low quality of life and with older age.

CONCLUSIONS: Health promoting strategies and activities should address the co-occurrence of depressive symptoms and BIC and should moreover pay attention to the gender-specific correlates of BIC for tailoring evidence based interventions for females and for males.

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