Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

William Sacco, Ph.D.


Body weight, Eating behavior, Physical activity, Thin-ideal internalization, Appearance attitudes


The greater body mass of African American females relative to Caucasian females is a well-documented finding implicated in ethnic disparities in health outcomes. The principal aim of the current study was to evaluate a theoretical account that may explain ethnic differences in body mass index. The proposed theoretical account focused on appearance-related concerns regarding the desirability of a thin body type as motivation to engage in weight control behavior. It was hypothesized that Caucasians would evidence greater internalization of the thin ideal than African Americans, which would then be associated with greater dietary restriction and physical activity, thereby predicting lower body mass among caucasians relative to African Americans. It was expected that this model would demonstrate greater applicability to individuals who lack constitutional thinness, i.e., individuals who have struggled with weight management in the past or at present. The study's design w

as cross-sectional. African American (n=113) and Caucasian (n= 633) undergraduate, unmarried, heterosexual females between the ages of 18 and 30 completed online questionnaires in which they provided information on their ethnicity,socioeconomic status, ethnic identity, thin-ideal internalization, the perceived romantic appeal of thinness, the importance of romantic need fulfillment, dietary restriction, physical activity, height, current weight, and their highest weight since attaining their current height. Structural equation modeling with LISREL 8.72 was used to evaluate the proposed model. Support for hypotheses was mixed. Among the subset of participants categorized as lacking constitutional thinness, the relationship between ethnicity and body mass was mediated by thin-ideal internalization and the perceived romantic appeal of thinness, each of which contributed independently to dietary restriction, which in turn evidenced a curvilinear relationship with body mass. Results ar

e consistent with the notion that ethnic differences in body mass may be partially accounted for by differences in standards for physical appearance, which may then motivate weight control behavior to a greater extent in Caucasians than African Americans.