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What Americans think about obesity: Poll

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Obesity tops list of America's health concerns

A recent survey reveals the health risk Americans fear as much as cancer and heart attack and the results might surprise you.


According to a recent poll Americans are well aware of the health risks of obesity and consider it as big a health threat as cancer. They are also frustrated with weight loss efforts and, to some degree, misinformed about what contributes to obesity.

Eat less, exercise more not the solution to obesity

John M. Morton, MD, MPH, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine says in a media release: "We have to get people, and even the medical community, to go beyond 'eat less and exercise more.'

Morton adds exercise and diet are important components of weight loss, but for many it is not effective.

Trevor Tompson, Vice President at NORC at the University of Chicago says"The survey shows there's a significant need for education so that Americans can better match the health risks and impact of obesity on their lives with the actions they take and the treatments they choose."

What Americans think about obesity

The ASMBS/NORC Obesity Poll found:

  • One in three Americans worry about weight gain.
  • People who are obese worry twice as much as non-obese people.
  • The majority worry about the health consequences of being overweight.
  • Americans are aware obesity raises type 2 diabetes risk and is linked to higher incidence of various types of cancer.
  • Ninety-four percent of those polled agree obesity can lead to earlier death.
  • The same percentage have tried to lose weight to no avail.
  • Most people believe (incorrectly) that diet and exercise is the best approach for weight loss.

Fifteen ways obesity hurts your health, but you ignore it

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The takeaway from the survey is that Americans are concerned about obesity and consider being overweight as big a health concern as cancer, but don't have the information and tools to combat the problem. Of 1,509 adults surveyed,, one-third have not consulted a medical professional for weight loss help,

Obesity, type 2 diabetes a national security risk

Obesity misperceptions

  • Many people believe lack of willpower leads to obesity and thwarts weight loss efforts.
  • Experts disagree, citing genes, environmental and emotional factors as contributors to obesity and barriers to weight loss.
  • Individuals may not recognize they are obese and believe they are just overweight
  • Misperceptions about the health outcomes of obesity vary with ethnicity - e.g. whites are more likely to identify obesity as a risk for heart disease, compared to Hispanic and blacks.
  • Two-thirds of men that are obese or overweight think they are not versus half of women who underestimate their weight.

Additionally, obesity has been classified as a disease, but most Americans surveyed do not recognize the condition as such. They also don't think the America's obesity problem is going to improve anytime soon, according to the report.

Lesser educated Americans think it is up to the individual to find ways to lose weight - Republicans also think the same. Conversely, younger Americans and Democrats tend to believe the health care system can take measures to prevent more people from becoming obese. The problem is concerning to the government because health care costs are considered a major economic threat.

What's holding people back?

Those polled say weight loss is "frustrating" and cite too much time in front of the TV, computer or playing video games, lack of willpower, availability and prevalence of unhealthy foods, inability to afford healthy food and cost of weight loss programs as the top five reasons they can't lose weight.

Other lesser reported reasons are no safe area to exercise, obesity is inherited, no insurance coverage for weight loss, lack of family support and lack of knowledge about how to lose weight.

Reference source:
Norc at the University of Chicago

Updated 11/3/2016