Body size preferences among young women in five Arab countries: a cross-cultural study

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Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Syria

Similar to many other developing countries, Arab states have faced rapid social, economic and lifestyle changes during the past decades, leading to the adoption of Western lifestyles and behavior. This includes preferences for Western norms of body shape and weight control, which may lead to a rise in the prevalence of eating disorders (7). Body size concern has not been investigated thoroughly in the Arab world. Madanat et al. (8) reported that Westernization, which is the result of epidemic and nutritional transition, has had a great impact on the increase in the risk of body dissatisfaction, and unhealthy habits in Arab states, such as Jordan. It was hypothesized that preferences for body size either for women or men among university women in Arab countries have changed to thinness rather than plumpness as previously reported, and there are significant differences in these preferences between various Arab countries.

 

 

Trigger Warning: The content in this study maybe triggering for some readers.

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Dear Readers, 

Please find below a study ‘Body size preferences among young women in five Arab countries: a cross-cultural study’, published in  International journal of adolescent medicine and health · November 2013.  The participants in this study are from: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Syria. We share this study for information purpose only. We thank Dr. Abdulrahman O. Musaiger for this useful study.

 

 

*Corresponding author: Dr. Abdulrahman O. Musaiger, Head of Arab Center for Nutrition, P.O. Box 26923, Manama, Bahrain, Phone: +973-17343460, Fax: +973-17346339, E-mail: amusaiger@gmail.com

 

 

Body size preferences among young women in five Arab countries: a cross-cultural study

Dr. Abdulrahman O. Musaiger

Abdulrahman_Musaiger

Abstract Objective: The aim of this study was to highlight body size preferences among university females in five Arab countries.

Methods: The sample comprised 1134 females between 17 and 32 years old from universities in five Arab countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Syria. A silhouette figure scale was used to examine body size preferences.

Results: There were significant differences between countries regarding female body size preferences (p < 0.001) and for preferred body size for men (p < 0.001). In general, the university females preferred a thinner body size for themselves than that perceived for men.

Conclusion: There was a drastic change in body size preferences for women from plumpness to thinness. Socio-cultural factors may play a role in the differences in the body size preferences between countries.

 

Keywords: Arab women; body size preferences; body weight concern.

 

Introduction

Obesity is a major public health problem worldwide, including Arab countries, and is associated with the increased risk of several non-communicable diseases. The prevalence of obesity in most regions of the Arab world has reached an alarming level, which requires urgent programs to prevent and control obesity (1). Prevention of obesity in the Western world is mostly based on the assumption that people prefer to be thin, and therefore it is important to raise awareness of obesity regarding their current weight status to start losing weight (2). Such assumption may not exist for Arab people, where preferences for body size may differ from Western people, as studies in some Arab communities showed preferences for plump women (3, 4). However, research indicates that due to the influence of Westernization and globalization in developing countries, attitudes toward body size have changed dramatically, where more women prefer to be thin as a sign of beauty and health (5, 6). Similar to many other developing countries, Arab states have faced rapid social, economic and lifestyle changes during the past decades, leading to the adoption of Western lifestyles and behavior. This includes preferences for Western norms of body shape and weight control, which may lead to a rise in the prevalence of eating disorders (7). Body size concern has not been investigated thoroughly in the Arab world. Madanat et al. (8) reported that Westernization, which is the result of epidemic and nutritional transition, has had a great impact on the increase in the risk of body dissatisfaction, and unhealthy habits in Arab states, such as Jordan. It was hypothesized that preferences for body size either for women or men among university women in Arab countries have changed to thinness rather than plumpness as previously reported, and there are significant differences in these preferences between various Arab countries. The aim of this paper, therefore, was to explore body size preferences among females at university in five Arab countries.

 

Methods

The target group of this study was university females in five Arab countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Syria. These countries were selected based on availability of student volunteers to collect the data. One governmental university was selected from each country, namely Bahrain, Ainshames, Hashemite, Qaboos and Aleppo, respectively. The total sample was 1134 females (254, 210, 220, 249 and 201, respectively, from the above universities). The age of the participants ranged from 17 to 32 years old. The participants were selected through convenience sampling and interviewed during break times, between class time and during lunch break. Nutrition students from the same universities interviewed them. The data were collected during 2008. The study was ethically approved by the Nutrition Studies Unit at Bahrain Center for Studies and Research, Bahrain. A body silhouette rating scale (9) was used to examine the preference for body size of the women themselves and that which they thought was preferred for men in their countries. The scale consisted of nine silhouette line drawings of both male and female adult figures (Figure 1). The figures ranged from very thin (1) to very obese (9). This scale has been tested and validated among women in several studies in Arab (8, 10) and Western (11, 12) countries. The questionnaire was tested with 20 Bahraini females at university to assess the ease in which they understood the questions and no significant changes were made. The questionnaires from countries other than Bahrain were sent to Central Station (Bahrain) for analysis. The data were entered in Excel files and analyzed using the Epi-info statistical package (13). The χ2 -test was used to test the association between body size preferences and countries, while the t-test was used to measure the differences between the means of scale scores for males and females in each country

 

Figure 1 The nine figure silhouette (to view this please view the Pdf) Body size prefrences amonng Arab Women

 

Results

The preferred body size of the women themselves and of the men in their countries as perceived by the women, using body silhouette illustrations, are shown in Tables 1 and 2. There were significant variations between countries for both women’s body size preferences (p < 0.000) and for perceived men’s body size preferences (p < 0.000). Females in Bahrain (33.5%), Jordan (30%) and Syria (30.3%) were more likely to prefer a thinner body shape for themselves (figure 2), than Egyptian (15.2%) and Omani (18.9%) females. With regard to the perceived preference of body size for men, the majority of the women chose less thin (figure 3) or ideal (figures 4 and 5) body sizes. The selection of ideal body sizes for men ranged from 36.4% in Syria to 67.5% in Oman. Means and standard deviations (SDs) for body size silhouettes preferred by university females for themselves and for the opposite sex are provided in Table 3. In general, the participants preferred a thinner body size for themselves (mean ± SD ranged from 2.80 ± 0.81 to 3.15 ± 0.94) than that they perceived for men (mean ± SD ranged 3.28 ± 1.22 to 3.80 ± 0.83). Except Egypt, the differences between body size preferences of women and those they perceived for men were statistically significant.

 

To View Table 1 

To View Table 2

To View Table 3

 

Please see the PDf Body size prefrences amonng Arab Women

 

Discussion

Using the figure rating scale, it was found that the women preferred a thin figure for themselves, but preferred that the men in their countries to be less thin or ideal body size. The result that Arab university females preferred a thinner body size is in agreement with the findings reported by several studies in Western countries (14, 15). The relatively high preference for figure 3 in the silhouette illustration by women in the current study is similar to that reported in the USA among girls 18–30 years old using the same figure illustration (16). The mean score for preferred body size in the silhouette illustration for women (2.80) and men (3.5) as perceived by Jordanian University females was less than that found by Madanat et al. (17), among Jordanian women 18–73 years old (3.89 and 3.70, respectively). The weight and body size concerns among females at university in the five Arab countries included in this study can be attributed to several sociocultural factors. Westernization, which is the result of nutritional and social transition that has occurred in most Arab countries, may play a role in increasing the proportion of body dissatisfaction and body shape concern, especially among adolescent girls and women (8). However, each country has experienced the transition in different periods, due to the socioeconomic context prevalent in each country and the extent of contact with Western culture (17). The people in these countries are now caught between the influence of Western culture with its preference for a thinner body size and traditional norms with certain preferences for plumpness. Studies in Arab countries (3, 4) have shown that, in some cultures, plump women are more acceptable than thin women. However, this attitude has decreased steeply in recent years, especially among the young population. The availability of various mass media in homes means greater exposure to the media. Evidence from previous studies in Western countries has suggested that exposure to fashion magazines (18) and fashion television channels (19) are strongly associated with body dissatisfaction. Similar published studies in Arab countries are sparse. However, some studies have reported that media has an important role in changing the attitudes of Arab women to the thinner body shape (17, 20). The ideal body image is usually affected by what appears in the mass media and other cultural outlets, and by the influence of parents and peers (21). The media transmit the ideal of thinness in a way that negatively influences the development of body image and self-esteem (22). In Jordan, Madanat et al. (17) found that 66% of women prefer thinner body size, mainly due to the influence of media. In Kuwait, Musaiger and AlMannai (5) showed that the mass media has a significant influence on the idea of a perfect body shape among both obese and non-obese Kuwaiti girls. This study has certain limitations that are worth mentioning. First, the samples were taken from one university in each country, which means that the study participants may not be representative of females at universities in each country. Second, weight and height were not measured to calculate obesity among the participants. Studying the association of obesity with weight preferences may demonstrate the real role of obesity in body size concern. Nevertheless, this study is the first to offer a comparison between several Arab countries on body size preferences. Approximately 65%–87% of Arab females at university preferred a thinner body size (figures 1–3 in the rating scale). The results of this study can be used as baseline data to carry out comprehensive studies on different factors associated with body size preferences in Arab regions. The high proportion of body size concern reported by Arab university females may contribute to the high prevalence of eating disorders. Therefore, it is important to include body weight concern behaviors and body dissatisfaction in intervention programs to promote a healthy lifestyle in Arab communities.

 

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Shaima Hussain (Bahrain), Huda Hussain (Egypt), Lolia Adeeb (Jordan), Abeer Al-Mahrogy (Oman) and Firas Ezzdeen and Reem Tarqjy (Syria) for their valuable work in collecting the data. Received August 1, 2013; accepted October 12, 2013

 

References

1. Musaiger AO, Al Hazzaa HM, Al-Qahtani A, Elati J, Ramadan J, et al. Strategy to combat obesity and to promote physical activity in Arab countries. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes 2011;4:89–97.

2. Dunkel TM, Davidson D, Qurashi S. Body satisfaction and pressure to be thin in younger and older Muslim and non-Muslim women: the role of Western and non-Western dress preferences. Body Image 2010;7:56–65.

3. Rguibi M, Belahsen R. Body size preferences and socio-cultural influences on attitudes towards obesity among Moroccan Sahraoui women. Body Image 2006;3:395–400.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Islam and Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan, the blog creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.

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