An American study questioned over 2,000 women about their size, diet and work out habits and took measurements. It found that many women were often unaware about whether they were a healthy weight or not.

Co-author Dr Mahbubur Rahman, of University of Texas, said: "As obesity numbers climb, many women see overweight as normal, not based on the scale but on how they view themselves."

It was found that 25 per cent of overweight women misjudged their body weight along with 16 per cent of common weight women.

The study was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The findings have serious consequences for obesity prevention, the researchers said, as many women do not recognise they are overweight and so will not connect programmes.

The study found that Hispanic and African American women who were overweight thought they were healthy compared with 15 per cent of white women.

The trend was reversed for common weight women who thought they were overweight with fewer Hispanics and African Americans falling into this category than white women.

Healthy weight women who thought they were too fat were twice as likely to skip meals, diet and smoke more cigarettes than the overweight women who thought they were slim.