credit: iStockPhoto A recent British survey asked 320 college-age women (average age 25 years) what they would trade to achieve their personal ideal body weight and shape, and the results were surprising.
The findings contradict the popular image of weight-obsessed women who will do anything to look perfect: Overall, the majority the women surveyed would not sacrifice anything at all to achieve their ideal body shape and weight.
The survey, conducted for an eating disorder organization called The Succeed Foundation in partnership with the University of the West of England, found that fewer than one-third of women reported that they would trade at least a year of their lives to be at their ideal weight: 16 percent would trade one year of their life; 10 percent would trade two to five years of their life; 2 percent would trade 6-10 years of their life; and 1 percent would trade 21 years or more of their life. (Apparently the survey didn't ask about trading 11-20 years.)
The survey also found that 26 percent of the women surveyed were willing to give up at least one of the following to achieve their ideal body weight and shape: £5000 (about $8,000) from their annual salary (13 percent); a promotion at work (8 percent); spending time with their family, friends, or partners (25 percent).
A similar survey, this one conducted in the United States and involving three times as many subjects, found similar results. In 2002 Glamour magazine asked more than 1,100 readers what they would give up forever to slim down permanently.
Only 5 percent said they would be willing to give up five years of their lives, and three-quarters refused to give up dessert to be thinner forever. Fewer than half (41 percent) would pay $3,000 to be thin. Almost a quarter said they would not give up anything at all to slim down permanently.
Where are all these weight-obsessed women who would supposedly do anything to be thin?
While some people find it concerning that a minority of women would trade any years of their lives to achieve their ideal weight ("My God! These poor women would give up years of their lives to be thinner! What's wrong with our culture?"), there's another way to look at it. For most women, their ideal weight is actually a healthier weight than their current one.
Obesity is rampant in both the United States and Great Britain, with about two-thirds of adults being overweight or obese - and more women are overweight than men. Few people are dieting, and the extra weight that most people have on their bodies is already literally costing them years of life due to weight-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Thus the superficially alarming idea of giving up years of life has it exactly backward: Instead of giving up years of life to be thin, most women who achieved their personal ideal weight through diet and exercise actually would gain years of life – and be thinner in the process.
I tried to contact someone from The Succeed Foundation to get more details on the study, but there seems to be curiously few references to this organization on the Web. They do have an inactive "under construction" Web page and a mission statement about helping promote body satisfaction among girls and teens (below photographs of young, thin female models).
Because this survey sample is thinner than the general population, the results may not be representative of the larger public. Most people would like to (and need to) lose weight, but these studies suggest that the Bridget Jones stereotype of women who would do anything for the perfect body is a myth.