• weight loss;
  • goals;
  • young adult;
  • college


Objective: Although a growing body of literature has found unrealistic weight loss goals to be common among older, primarily female, subjects, little is known about weight loss goals of younger adults.

Research Methods and Procedures: Three hundred seventy-nine college students had their height and weight taken and reported their “goal,” “dream,” “happy,” “acceptable,” and “disappointed” weights. A series of 2 (gender) × 2 (nonoverweight vs. overweight) ANOVAs were conducted with both absolute weight goals and percentage of weight loss needed to obtain those goals as dependent variables.

Results: When examined in terms of absolute weight goals, women generally had lower body mass index (BMI) goals than men, and nonoverweight participants had lower BMI goals than overweight participants. Surprisingly, most overweight participants would accept a weight loss that would still place them in the overweight BMI range. When examined in terms of percentage loss needed to reach those goals, only overweight women chose goal and dream weights that would require a loss greater than can be expected from nonsurgical weight-loss treatments, and all overweight participants chose happy and acceptable weights within 15% of current weight.

Discussion: Participants in this study had generally reasonable weight-loss goals, and even the most extreme weight loss goals were much more moderate than those found in previous studies. These results are surprising given the extreme social pressures for thinness facing young adults. Future studies should examine the variables that influence selection of goal weights and how goal weights affect actual dieting behavior.