Skip to main content

Development of a body figure scale and assessment of overweight in a multi-ethnic pre-adolescent population


Branstad, Kathryn E. (2003). Development of a body figure scale and assessment of overweight in a multi-ethnic pre-adolescent population. Master's thesis / Doctoral dissertation.


Overweight and obesity have been increasing dramatically in the United States. Certain ethnic and sociodemographic subsets of the population, including Latino children, tend to suffer proportionally higher rates of overweight.

The first body figure scale was published in 1983 by Stunkard, Sørensen, and Schulsinger, researchers delineating the influence of genetics. Body figure scales consist of a series of similar figures, ranging in appearance from emaciated to obese. Respondents circle the figure that resembles the person or ideal of interest.

Currently no figure scale targets multi-ethnic or minority pre-adolescent populations. This study sought to discern the favored design parameters, including format and stance, for the creation of an evidence-based body figure scale for use with mixed populations of youth.

Eighty-nine fourth and fifth-grade students from four ethnically diverse elementary schools in northern Virginia were surveyed using novel and standard body figure scales, and assessed for anthropometric measures. Approximately 37% of subjects were at-risk of overweight or overweight; levels varied between and within ethnic groups. Subjects identified best with photographic format scales with figures shown in a three-quarters stance with their arms at their sides. The choice of a "self" figure on both the novel and Collins (1991) figure scales was related to BMI-for-age percentile and body image. The novel scale allowed differentiation of mean self-identified figure choices between ethnic groups.

There is hope that body figure scales will one day provide rapid, inexpensive assessment of overweight and obesity.


Reference Type


Year Published



Branstad, Kathryn E.