Did you hear?... U.S. adults startlingly out of touch with obesity, inactivity

While the Centers for Disease Control estimates that two of three U.S. adults are either overweight (one in three) or obese (one in three), a new survey by a consumer group reports there is a "startling disconnect" between the way people perceive their weight and what their actual weight is. The group also found that doctors weren't generally giving enough exercise advice.
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While the Centers for Disease Control estimates that two of three U.S. adults are either overweight (one in three) or obese (one in three), a new survey by a consumer group reports there is a "startling disconnect" between the way people perceive their weight and what their actual weight is. The group also found that doctors weren't generally giving enough exercise advice.

A recent survey by the National Consumers League, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that U.S. adults were much more likely to refer to themselves as "overweight" rather than "obese", and consistently identified themselves as being in less severely overweight groups than they actually were, based on body mass index. Fifty-two percent of respondents referred to themselves as overweight, and only 12 percent as obese, severely obese or morbidly obese.

But among the 96 percent of respondents who shared their height and weight during the survey, 35 percent are actually "overweight," whereas 34 percent are actually obese, severely obese or morbidly obese based on body mass calculations. Among respondents who are obese according to body mass, 82 percent consider themselves to be simply "overweight." Only a minority of all respondents (one in five) claimed to know their body mass index, reported the group, America's pioneer consumer organization that promotes social and economic justice for consumers (www.nclnet.org).

The study said that despite the commonly held view that obesity is a serious disease, significant levels of cultural bias persist. Seventy-eight percent of respondents say that obesity is a serious, chronic disease and that it requires medical treatment (54 percent). However, 61 percent of U.S. adults reported that obesity is considered taboo in society today, and 50 percent attribute the condition to "lack of will power." Additionally, 37 percent agreed that obese people should pay more for health insurance, and 27 percent said that it is still acceptable to make fun of obesity.

According to findings, 64 percent of respondents are not happy with their current weight, and many say that more time to exercise (59 percent), better access to healthful foods (31 percent), and more time to cook and eat at home (31 percent) would help them achieve and maintain a healthier weight.

Of the respondents surveyed, just over three of four (77 percent) said they have tried to lose weight at some point and, among these, 60 percent agreed that it is one of the hardest things they have ever tried to do. Despite the attempts, many are unsuccessful at either losing weight or keeping it off. Less than a third (29 percent) of those who have ever tried to lose weight reported being successful, and about a third (34 percent) have only been able to keep off the weight lost for less than one year.

Just over half (52 percent) say that they have talked about losing weight with their doctor, although respondents who are obese are more likely to have done so. The study found only 12 percent of U.S. adults say they have ever been told by a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional that they are obese. Among those who have discussed weight loss with their doctor, nearly three in five (59 percent) report that their doctors recommended a diet change (47 percent) or exercise regimen (35 percent). However, only a third discussed the health risks associated with their weight, and only 10 percent said their doctor helped them develop a plan to lose weight.

Of the weight-loss options other than regular diet and exercise discussed in the survey, respondents reported being most familiar with:

>> organized weight-loss programs -- 56 percent. Organized weight-loss plans also were perceived very or somewhat positively by most (69 percent) respondents, followed by counseling/psychiatry (55 percent), and an intensive weight loss "camp" (45 percent).
>> over-the-counter medications -- 42 percent
>> weight-loss surgery -- 41 percent
>> prescription medications -- 39 percent

Additionally, 38 percent held a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” view of weight-loss surgery, while 35 percent thought positively of prescription weight-loss medications, 34 percent of acupuncture, and 33 percent of hypnosis.

The survey of 1,978 adult Americans was conducted online by Harris Interactive from March 6-12, 2007. NCL has launched a new consumer education campaign, "Choose to Lose" at www.nclnet.org/obesity.

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