An exploration of women’s perception of their weight and body image in an area with high HIV prevalence

Rynal Devanathan, Ramona Govender


This study will explore women` s perceptions of their weight and body image. Worldwide, obesity is becoming an increasing public health problem and interventions to encourage weight loss must be context-specific.


In South Africa there is a growing concern regarding the increasing prevalence of obesity. Studies on obesity focus mainly on women and indicate that women generally perceive their weight to be less than it actually is. Additionally, women may perceive their body image different from what it actually is. Reasons why this may be so are complex and related to issues such as past experience, and education. There is a growing realization that perceptions around weight may be influenced by HIV-disease. Women may consider that thinness is associated with AIDS and may wish to have increased body fat so they cannot be stigmatized. This leads to a question: do women in a high HIV prevalence area perceive themselves to be fatter than they actually are?

 There have been no studies on perceptions of weight carried out in a high HIV prevalence area. It is vital that a study be carried out to initially assess if women in a high HIV prevalent area (KwaZulu Natal) do perceive themselves to be thinner or fatter than they actually are. This study aims to explore women’s` perceptions of their body image in a high prevalence of HIV infection. If this study does show that women do perceive themselves to be thinner or fatter than they actually are, then further studies may be indicated to explore reasons why this is so. Such studies are vital if effective weight loss interventions are to be designed and implemented.

 Study participants will be women who are attending a clinic in Durban, KwaZulu Natal. No sampling methods will be employed (all women will be invited to partake in the study). Data collection tools are: case record file, anthropometric measurement and “body image charts.” Data will be entered on to an EPI INFO programme and descriptive statistics will review average and ranges. A review of variables such as age, race and medical condition will be made in association with perceived weight and body image.

Ethics issues will consider confidentiality; the researcher will invite all women to participate so that there will be no stigmatization due to HIV disease. A clinic educator will be available to counsel women if they feel a sense of unease when discussing their weight.