Online Program

Impact of Upward and Downward Appearance Comparisons on Self-Esteem among College Students

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Andrew Peachey, DrPH, Department of Health Sciences, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Margi Stickney, EdD, Department of Health Sciences, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Erika Collazo-Vargas, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Sciences,, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Introduction: Self-esteem is a crucial component of strong self-concept and impacts health behaviors of college students.  Perceptions of one’s physical appearance are key to an individual’s sense of worth. In order to promote positive mental health throughout the lifespan, it is necessary to assess how self-esteem levels of college students may be influenced by comparisons of their own bodies to those of their peers.

Method: During October 2014, 173 male (27.4%) and 458 female (72.6%) undergraduates completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), the Upward Appearance Comparison Scale (UPACS), and the Downward Appearance Comparison Scale (DACS) through an online survey.  Self-reported height and weight were used to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI). 

Results: Self-esteem was significantly higher among men (Mean=22.0, sd=4.8) than among women (Mean=20.5, sd=4.8), t=3.54, p<0.001.  UPACS and DACS were significantly higher among women (Mean UPACS=3.61, sd=0.8; Mean DACS=2.82, sd=0.9) than among men (Mean UPACS=3.17, sd=0.7; Mean DACS=2.57, sd=0.7), t=6.81, p<0.001 and t=3.70, p<0.001, respectively.  General linear modeling yielded a significant main effect for UPACS, F = 15.78, p<0.001. Main effects were also observed for sex, F = 4.20, p=0.041, and obesity, F=8.10, p=0.005.  Furthermore, the interaction effect of sex and UPACS was signficant, F=6.43, p=0.01. No significant effects were observed for DACS. 

Conclusion: College students are more likely to make upward appearance comparisons than downward comparisons.  For both men and women, these comparisons may decrease self-esteem; however, women may experience more severe impacts.  Developing strategies to reduce comparisons and mitigate their impact among college students are important for overall health.

Learning Areas:

Assessment of individual and community needs for health education
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Compare the impact of upward appearance comparisons among male and female college students. Formulate intervention strategies to limit the impact of upward and downward appearance comparisons.

Keyword(s): College Students, Obesity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the principal investigator on several quantitative and qualitative research studies focusing on the built and social determinants of health. My research interests include injury prevention, physical activity, and college student health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.