Self-reporting one’s size

According to a study released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, people err in reporting their own size. By sex, women under report their weight while men add inches to their height. From Americans See Weight Problems Everywhere But In the Mirror:

When it comes to perceptions about weight, not only are Americans more generous toward friends than toward strangers, they appear to be most generous of all toward themselves. In the Pew survey, just 5% of respondents describe themselves as “very overweight”, even though, according to government standards, some 31% of adults in this country are “obese.”

The Pew survey also asked respondents to state how much they weigh and how tall they are. Here, too, a significant difference emerges between survey responses and official government statistics – and this phenomenon is consistent with health researchers’ findings about self-perception and self-reporting of weight. In the Pew survey based on self-reports, the median weight of adult women is 150 pounds and the median height is 5’5″. In the most recent government study, which is based on medical technicians doing actual measurements on standard scales, the median weight for adult women is five pounds heavier (155 pounds) and the median height is one inch shorter (5’4″). As for men, well, they give themselves even more phantom height than women do – two extra inches. The self-reported median height of men in the Pew survey is 5’11”, compared with 5’9″ in the government survey.

But when it comes to weight, men are either more honest than women, or they have been adding pounds at a much faster clip in recent years. The median self-reported weight for men in the Pew survey is 190 pounds, six pounds more than the 184 pound median in the government survey…Indeed, preliminary findings from surveys done in 2003-2004 show that while women’s rates of obesity have stayed constant compared to 1999-2002, men’s rates of obesity have gone up a few percentage points.

Along these same lines, the public and the government also have a very different idea of what constitutes an appropriate weight. Fully half (51%) of all respondents in the Pew survey whose reports of their own height and weight would lead them to be categorized by the government as “overweight” say that they consider their weight “just about right.” One other gender difference is notable. In the Pew survey, 9% of women, but just 3% of men, either declined to answer the question about their weight, or said they didn’t know what their weight is.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that consumers expect us to get their sizes right if they aren’t doing it themselves. How many under report their clothing sizes accordingly? I’ve known designers to be just as guilty of that as the average consumer is. The complete report is available (free) on site.

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5 comments

  1. Jeff says:

    My own personal weight varies by a few to several pounds, depending on the time of year and the degree of laziness (and/or warm beer and bread) that I allow to enter into my life (or mouth).

    That being said, it is perfectly understandable to be unclear about ones own weight within, say, 3% or 4%. But to not have an accurate measure of ones own height is something else entirely! I thought only college basketball players fudged on their height.

  2. La BellaDonna says:

    Jeff, I don’t think people get measured quite as often as they get weighed; and I’m pretty sure most of them don’t make allowance for the fact that the pads between the discs in the spine flatten out as they age, reducing their height (regardless of osteoporosis, which is another factor which can reduce height). And doctors’ offices, which is where people are most often measured, aren’t always painstaking – I remember in high school being measured at 5’7″ and 5’10” in the same month! I was 5’7″ then; now, alack, I am 5’6″, and standing as tall as I can when I’m measured.

  3. Talbot’s sizing study

    Joanna sends word of a newly released sizing study commissioned by Talbots. Somehow, 85% of women know if something fits them by looking at the size tag but 62% of them don’t know their body measurements! Moreover, only 16% of…

  4. My chest, waist, hip, etc. measurements go back to 1980, and from 1990 onward were quite frequent-and in metric. Measurements from 1981 and 1982 are lost. From 1974 to 1983 (age 7-16) my weight went unrecorded. From 1983 to 2003, my weight was rarely recorded. From 2003 onward my weight was more frequent.

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