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Poll: Women focus on weight over health

May 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new poll finds there is a major disconnect between body image and actual physical condition among women. Half the women surveyed in the Associated Press-iVillage poll said they were unhappy with their weight. That's not a big surprise. What is somewhat eye-opening is what women say they are doing about their weight.

For instance, while many women were dieting, just 8 percent of them were eating the minimum recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, suggesting they were more concerned with appearance than with overall health and fitness.

"The priorities are flipped," Dr. Molly Poag, chief of psychiatry at New York's Lennox Hill Hospital told the Associated Press. "There's an undervaluing of physical fitness and an overvaluing of absolute weight and appearance for women in our culture."

To that end, Dr. Poag suggested that women athletes would be much better role models than supermodels when it comes to female body image.

While half the women polled said they did not like their weight, a much smaller number -- just a third -- said they did not like their physical condition, again suggesting a gap in attitudes on appearance and health.

When it comes to exercise, the poll found women getting a median of 80 minutes a week. That means half the women were spending less time than that exercising. The average adult is supposed to get 150 minutes of exercise a week to maintain good health.

About 25 percent of the women surveyed said they would consider plastic surgery, such as a tummy tuck. But such procedures are purely cosmetic.

"There isn't any quick fix," Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the women's heart program at the New York Univeristy Langone Medical Center, told the AP. "People can't see the damage being done inside their body. If you increase your fitness but don't lose as much weight, you still have a lower heart disease risk than someone who is obese and sedentary."

"Someone who is fat or even overweight can be healthy if they have a balanced diet and are physically active," said Samantha Kwan, a University of Houston sociologist who studies gender and body image. "Our culture really does put a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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