Extra Weight Someone Else's Problem

Most Americans See Excess Pounds on Others but Not Themselves

From the WebMD Archives

April 12, 2006 -- Most Americans see a serious weight problem among other Americans but often can't see it in themselves.

So says a new survey from the Pew Research Center. The survey, done by telephone in February and early March, included 2,250 randomly chosen U.S. adults.

The survey showed widespread agreement that the U.S. is heftier than it should be. But most participants thought those extra pounds were on other people's bodies.

Among poll takers, 90% said most Americans are overweight. A smaller group -- 70% -- said most people they know are overweight. Even fewer -- 39% -- called themselves overweight.

Participants mainly blamed insufficient exercise for America's weight problem, followed by lack of willpower about what to eat, the survey also shows.

Pounds Piling Up

When asked if Americans are more overweight than five years ago, 85% of poll takers said yes, and two-thirds called that trend a "major problem."

The CDC recently reported that seven out of 10 U.S. adults are overweight or obeseseven out of 10 U.S. adults are overweight or obese. But in the Pew survey, less than four in 10 thought they were overweight, showing a gap between perception and reality.

Health experts use the term "obese" for people whose BMI (body mass index) is 30 or higher. The term "overweight" describes people with a BMI of at least 25 but less than 30.

The Pew survey used the term "very overweight" instead of obese. Participants reported their weight and height. Half of those who fit the government's "overweight' category called their weight "just about right," the survey states.

Fewer Dieters

The survey shows fewer dieters than in the past and a big emphasis on exercise.

A quarter of participants reported currently dieting. About half (52%) said they had dieted in the past.

Pew reports that in a poll taken 15 years ago, slightly more people (57%) reported ever dieting. The new and old polls didn't necessarily include the same people.

Both polls showed that among people who had ever dieted, about 75% reported losing at least 5 pounds and keeping that weight off for at least a year. In other words, dieting may have been more common 15 years ago, but people weren't much better at it then.

"Nearly everyone -- dieters and nondieters alike -- say that is difficult to lose weight," the new poll states. For instance, 59% said it is "very hard" for people who are very overweight to lose weight. Women, people aged 50 and older, overweight people, and dieters were more likely to agree that weight loss is very hard for the very overweight.


Exercise a Big Issue

Why are so many people in the U.S. overweight? Insufficient exercise is the biggest reason, the poll shows.

Poll takers heard a list of four factors possibly related to the U.S. weight problem. Here is that list, along with the percentages of participants who called those factors "very important" in understanding why people in the U.S. are "very overweight":

  • Failure to get enough exercise: 75%
  • Lack of willpower about what to eat: 59%
  • Kinds of foods marketed in restaurants and grocery stores: 50%
  • Genetic and hereditary factors: 32%

Almost all participants said a person's weight affects his or her attractiveness to some degree (91%). Most said a person's weight affects his or her chances of having a long and healthy life (96%), the survey also shows.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 12, 2006


SOURCES: Pew Research Center: "Americans See Weight Problems Everywhere but in the Mirror," April 11, 2006. WebMD Medical News: "Obesity Epidemic Balloons to New Girth.""Obesity Epidemic Balloons to New Girth." Reuters.
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