Body appreciation and body appearance pressure in Norwegian university students comparing exercise science students and other students
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBMC Public Health. 2021, 21, Artikkel 532. 10.1186/s12889-021-10550-0
Background: Body image is considered a core issue for public health and associates with university students’ overall health. Due to positive associations between exercise and body image, it has been suggested that students within an exercise science program might be more body appreciative compared to other students. On the other hand, the strong societal idealization of the athletic body may expose them to a pressure of having a specific body appearance, which may result in unfavorable health consequences. Nevertheless, studies investigating these hypotheses are lacking. We therefore aimed to explore the level and associations of body appreciation, body appearance pressure, body image related mental health constructs, physical activity, and exercise, in Norwegian university exercise science and non-health reference students. Method: Male and female exercise science students (n = 517) and reference students (n = 476), from nine large universities in Norway took part in this cross-sectional study. Participants responded to the Body appreciation scale2, a self-developed questionnaire on body appearance pressure, Physical Appearance Comparison Scale-Revised, Sociocultural attitudes towards appearance questionnaire-4R, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, Satisfaction with Life Scale, and questions about physical activity and exercise. Between group differences were analyzed using student independent t-test and ANCOVA for parametric data and Chi-square test for categorical data, and associations were evaluated by Person’s correlation. P-values ≤0.05 were defined as significant. Results: Female exercise science students had higher scores on body appreciation compared to reference students. No group difference was found in males. A high percentage of students reported experiencing body appearance pressure, with 69 and 85% among male and female exercise science students, and 57 and 83% among male and female reference students. Fitness centers were the settings where most respondents experienced body appearance pressure. Body appreciation was strongly associated with favorable scores on body image related mental health constructs, while personally experienced body appearance pressure associated with destructive scores on the same constructs. Conclusion: Body appearance pressure is an issue among university students regardless of study program. Actions to promote body appreciation and prevent body appearance pressure may include an implementation of media literacy, body functionality, and exercise as topics within the education program to safeguard students’ health and well-being.