Background Historically, body image research has relied on generic, whole body outlines, which may not be suited to obese individuals. The development of computer generated, individualized digital images to represent body image may be more effective.
Methods Sixty volunteers participated, with three categories of subject: lean, obese and lean regular exercisers. Body image was assessed using a digital morphing technique in comparison to two standard paper questionnaires.
Results Using the novel digital morphing tool, obese subjects displayed poorer body awareness (perception) than their lean counterparts (P = 0.03), significantly over-estimating their actual body size. Both genders overestimated body size to a similar degree. For body satisfaction, females wished to be smaller and males to be larger, identifying gender-specific body regions (P < 0.001). Obese subjects showed greatest dissatisfaction (P < 0.001) with body image. There was significant correlation for body image dissatisfaction (P < 0.05) between the digital technique and the questionnaires, which was highest for the figural stimuli questionnaire (r = 0.80, P < 0.001).
Conclusions This method represents a novel and alternative approach to rating body image perception (IP) and satisfaction in obese subjects, particularly providing data on specific regional areas. Body image dissatisfaction appears to be both due to poor body IP compounded with the desire to be smaller.