Health risks, past usage, and intention to use weight loss products in normal weight women with high and low body dysphoria


Objective: There are many health risks involved with the use of weight loss products by normal weight women. The mass media may compound this problem through the promotion of weight loss products and a thin body size. This study tested women’s perceptions of different weight loss product ads to determine if body dysphoria (i.e., an over concern with body size and shape in normal weight people) was associated with risk beliefs, past behaviors, and intention toward using weight loss products.

Method: Normal weight women (age range = 18–41 yr), who were classified as either high (n=45) or low (n=43) on a measure of body dysphoria, rated different weight loss products according to their perception of health risks, past behavior, and their intention to consume the products. These products were a dietary fat substitute (olestra), a prescription obesity medication (sibutramine), and an over-the-counter appetite suppressant (phenylpropanolamine).

Results: High body dysphoric women reported higher intentions to use the products as well as increased prior use of two of the three weight loss products. High body dysphoric women did not believe that these weight loss products were harmless. They recognized potential health risks associated with using such products, but noneth less, expressed intention to use these weight loss products at a higher frequency. Also, several variables related to body image were found to effectively discriminate normal weight women at risk for abusing weight loss products.

Discussion: This study found that women who do not need to lose weight but have significant body image concerns were willing to use potentially harmful weight loss products despite the knowledge that such products might pose significant health risks. Techniques utilized by advertising regulatory agencies such as warning labels did not have a strong deterrent effect for stated intentions to use the products. Implications of these findings for public health policy issues were discussed.

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Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity