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Open Access Research article

Body image during pregnancy: an evaluation of the suitability of the body attitudes questionnaire

Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz*, Helen Skouteris, Brittany Watson and Briony Hill

Author Affiliations

School of Psychology, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria, 3125, Australia

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-91

Published: 6 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Available data suggest that body dissatisfaction is common during pregnancy and may even be a precursor to post-natal depression. However, in order to accurately identify at-risk women, it is essential to first establish that body image measures function appropriately in pregnant populations. Our study examines the suitability of the Body Attitudes Questionnaire (BAQ) for measuring body dissatisfaction among pregnant women by comparing the psychometric functioning of the BAQ: (1) across key phases of pregnancy, and (2) between pregnant and non-pregnant women.

Methods

A total of 176 pregnant women from Melbourne, Victoria filled out a questionnaire battery containing demographic questions and the Body Attitudes Questionnaire at 16, 24, and 32 weeks during pregnancy. A comparison group of 148 non-pregnant women also completed the questionnaire battery at Time 1. Evaluations of the psychometric properties of the BAQ consisted of a series of measurement invariance tests conducted within a structural equation modelling framework.

Results

Although the internal consistency and factorial validity of the subscales of the BAQ were established across time and also in comparisons between pregnant and non-pregnant women, measurement invariance tests showed non-invariant item intercepts across pregnancy and also in comparison with the non-pregnant subgroup. Inspection of modification indices revealed a complex, non-uniform pattern of differences in item intercepts across groups.

Conclusions

Collectively, our findings suggest that comparisons of body dissatisfaction between pregnant and non-pregnant women (at least based on the BAQ) are likely to be conflated by differential measurement biases that serve to undermine attempts to accurately assess level of body dissatisfaction. Researchers should be cautious in assessments of body dissatisfaction among pregnant women until a suitable measure has been established for use in this population. Given the fact that body dissatisfaction is often associated with maladaptive behaviours, such as unhealthy eating and extreme weight loss behaviours, and with ante-and post-natal depression, that have serious negative implications for women’s health and well-being, and potentially also for the unborn foetus during pregnancy, developing a suitable body image screening tool, specific to the perinatal period is clearly warranted.

Keywords:
Pregnancy; Body dissatisfaction; Body attitudes questionnaire; Measurement invariance