Changing Perceptions of Weight: Increasing Numbers of People Are Failing to Recognize They Have a Weight Problem
and more people are failing to recognize they are overweight, despite
an actual rise in the number of people who are clinically "overweight"
or "obese", according to new research published by the British Medical
well known that women often view themselves as ‘too fat’
while men typically underestimate their weight. But how far has
people’s perception of their weight changed with the growing
from the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London,
compared data taken from two household surveys carried out in 1999 and
2007. In each survey participants were asked to give their height and
weight (from which their Body Mass Index (BMI) and clinical weight
category could be determined) and also categories themselves as either:
‘very underweight’, ‘underweight’, ‘about
right’, ‘overweight’ or ‘very
overweight’. The 2007 survey also included ‘obese’ as
proportion of respondents whose weight placed them in the clinically
obese category had nearly doubled in eight years from 11 percent in
1999 to 19 percent in 2007, Professor Jane Wardle and her colleagues
found. Yet, those whose weight put them in the overweight category were
less likely to think that they were overweight in 2007 than in 1999.
1999, 43 percent of the population had a BMI that put them in the
overweight or obese range, of whom 81 percent correctly identified
themselves as overweight. But in 2007, 53 percent of the population had
a BMI in the overweight or obese range, but only 75 percent of these
correctly classed themselves as overweight.
researchers suggest that the growing division between actual and
perceived weight may be due to overweight becoming more widespread in
the population and the appearance of mild overweight being increasingly
accepted as ‘normal’. These changes may have increased the
level at which people perceive themselves to be overweight.
perceptions are reinforced by media images of people who are morbidly
obese, which add to the misconception that extremely high weights are
required to meet the medical criteria for overweight, the researchers
said. This can also increase the stigma attached to the labels
‘overweight’ and ‘obese’.
authors warn that despite media and health campaigns aimed at raising
awareness of healthy weight, increasing numbers of overweight people
are failing to recognize that their weight is a cause for concern, or
that messages about healthy eating and exercise are aimed at them.
people, who underestimate their body weight, may be ignoring important
messages about modifying their lifestyles, claims Professor Sara Bleich
from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health in an accompanying
to Bleich, the key to correcting misconceptions about weight is to
treat obesity as a multilevel problem—focusing on broader society
as well as the individual. Educating the entire population on the
importance of a healthy lifestyle, rather than focusing on overweight
individuals, may also reduce weight related stigma.
For more information on the British Medical Journal, visit www.bmj.com