Women don't know what 'healthy weight' looks like

Image via Think Stock 

Take a look at the below picture.

If you had to guess, how many of the below women would you say are a “healthy” weight?

Women's weight scale

If you picked anything besides number two, number three or number four, you're wrong.

Surprised? Yeah, we were too.

According to an article from The Guardian this week, the above scale is a "body image scale", based on BMI, which identifies women who are at various stages on the BMI scale.

Number one is underweight; numbers two, three and four are healthy; number five is overweight; numbers six and seven are obese; numbers eight and nine are morbidly obese.

The scale was given to African American females by researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Researchers specifically chose African American women from a low-income background, as that particular demographic has the highest obesity rates in the US.

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They were also interested in seeing how culture affects the perception of health - in the African American demographic, it's more culturally acceptable to have a larger body size.

So just how fat is considered to be "too fat" by African American women? The researchers wanted to know. And so they asked the women to do two things:

1. Identify which of the women were overweight and obese, but also identify which of the women were "too fat" to be healthy;

2. Identify which picture featured a women of approximately the same size as themselves.

The study discovered that women generally only identified two of the body types as "too fat" - number eight and number nine. And although they identified other bodies in the scale as overweight, they didn't also classify them as "too fat" - showing that, for their particular demographic, overweight doesn't necessarily equal unhealthy. In these women's minds, there is only cause for concern when morbid obesity begins to come into the picture.


Many of the women were unable to identify their own body weight from the drawings; 56% of overweight women and 40% of obese women didn't classify their body as either of the two.

Researchers pointed out that this study is evidence of the fact that we're all losing sight of what 'healthy' actually looks like. As the general population of the Western world gets bigger, bigger starts getting more and more normal. As The Guardian writes...

What is going on here is that the cultural belief of the women as to what "too fat" looks like and therefore what is unhealthy is at odds with what the medical profession thinks.

The researchers suggest that health messages should be accompanied by pictures of what healthy and unhealthy weight actually looks like. It's something we are all losing sight of.

Of course, this study is flawed in that it's based entirely on BMI.

We've all known for a long time that the body mass index formula is flawed. Firstly, because it doesn't account for how much muscle someone might carry, meaning that someone may fall into an overweight or obese category simply because they carry more muscle than fat.

Secondly, it's not a measure of how 'healthy' someone is. Kirsty Welsh, PT and health and wellness expert, has explained to us in the past that what really counts is on the inside:

Visceral fat – the fact around your organs – is what we need to be concerned about. You can’t see it visceral fat. It’s not what’s on the outside.

You might have someone who looks healthy but if you get some scales that show them their visceral fat, it can be very scary.

So in other words, "skinny-fat" is very much a thing - and it's something that the BMI scale doesn't acknowledge.

But putting this aside, there is something interesting in the idea of overweight becoming more normalised in our world. A quick survey around the Glow team found that we had similar opinions to the African American women surveyed - we didn't see the women as particularly unhealthy until the morbidly obese range.

So - over to you. Just how large do you think is "too fat"?

What do you think of the scale? Do you think 'bigger' is becoming the norm in our society?