Perceptions relating to body size, weight loss and weight-loss interventions in black South African women: a qualitative study

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Public Health Nutrition

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Abstract Objective A higher tolerance for a larger body size has been associated with obesity in black South African (SA) women. The aim of the present study was to explore perceptions regarding body size and weight loss in a sample of black women from a low-income community in Cape Town, SA. Design Qualitative pilot study including five focus groups. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Setting Khayelitsha, Cape Town, SA. Subjects Twenty-one black SA women. Results The majority of participants had positive perceptions of overweight/obesity, which were influenced by community and cultural perceptions, but some inconsistencies were observed as overweight/obesity was also associated with ill health. Participants identified many benefits to weight loss, but due to the association with sickness, they were concerned about being stigmatised in their community. Although participants had knowledge about healthy eating, the main barrier to eating healthily included the perceived higher cost of healthier food and food insecurity. All participants saw exercise as a strategy to lose weight and improve health, and were interested in participating in a community-based exercise intervention, but negative community perceptions and conflicting views regarding who should lead the intervention were identified as barriers. Conclusions These findings highlight the complexities surrounding participants’ perceptions regarding body size, weight loss and weight-loss interventions, and emphasise low socio-economic status as a barrier to change. The study also highlights the strong influence of cultural ideals and community perceptions on personal perceptions. These findings underscore the necessity for culturally appropriate weight-loss interventions in low-income, transitioning communities.