Aug. 2, 2012 -- The next time one of your friends asks if he or she looks like they put on some weight, you may want to consider being honest with them -- even if the answer is yes.
If so, you will be doing your part to help break through our collective denial about our tendency to gain weight. A new study suggests that most of us are clueless about whether we are gaining or losing weight. The findings appear in Preventive Medicine.
Many study participants said they lost weight from 2008 to 2009, but in fact, they gained. On average, adults were off by a pound, but that can really add up over the years, as can the health consequences associated with weight gain.
"We were surprised and alarmed," says researcher Catherine M. Wetmore, PhD, of the the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle. "One way we can all address the obesity epidemic is through self-awareness of body weight and changes over time."
The findings also have public health implications. If participants' reported weights were true, then the obesity epidemic would have declined instead of gone up.
Why are we in such denial?
"It may be related to optimism or vanity or a real lack of awareness of changes," she says.
Still, not everyone has their head in the sand. "Women do a better job than men of gauging changes in their weight, and younger people are more on target than older adults."
Adults older than 50 were off by more than 2 pounds a year, and people with diabetes were off by about 4 pounds per year, the study shows.
"Being overweight or obese increases our risk for all sorts of chronic health conditions and medical costs, Wetmore says. "We need to do a better job of monitoring changes in our weight."
Denial is not all that uncommon, says Louis Aronne, MD. He is the founder and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "We know that people underestimate their weight and overestimate their height, so people think they are taller and thinner than they are."