Social Norms, Body Weight, and Well-Being: A Multi-Method Comparison of Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, and the United States.


Which body weight is considered normal and socially accepted in modern societies? Do body-weight norms differ across countries? How do they affect the psychological well-being of those who conform and deviate? Answers to these questions are highly relevant across the globe, as the obesity epidemic continues to spread throughout Western countries, while underweight – especially among women – emerges as a growing problem in Asian countries. This renders large population groups at risk of declines in psychological well-being and further weight gain or loss. Research suggests that body-weight norms play an important role. Yet, little is known about how body-weight norms differ between countries, how body-weight norms differ across social groups, and how body-weight norms affect individual-level outcomes.This project is guided by two objectives: first, to understand the nature of, and cross-national differences in cultural body-weight norms; second, to explain how body-weight norms matter for individual-level outcomes. These objectives will be achieved by a study of body-weight norms in Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, and the United States. These countries provide excellent opportunities for comparative research because they vary strongly regarding average body weight, the prevalence of obesity, and societal values attached to physical appearance. The project will be the first to measure body-weight norms, their associations with individual outcomes, and the key mechanisms behind these associations – sanctions, pressure, and internalization – using internationally comparative and representative samples. A triangulation of descriptive and explanatory methods will provide an in-depth understanding of how and why body-weight norms vary between and within countries and how these norms affect individual body-weight satisfaction, weight gain and loss, psychological well-being, and self-esteem.This knowledge is societally relevant because it contributes to understanding why deviations from healthy body weight spread unequally between and within countries, and to assessing the mental health burden resulting from cultural body-weight norms.





L. Leopold

Verbonden aan

Universiteit van Amsterdam


10/09/2019 tot 31/12/2023