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Only 10% of obese people realise it

Discouraging news but never too late to change….

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Most obese people in Britain do not recognise themselves as obese or even very overweight, new research has shown. The researchers said that public health initiatives were likely to be hampered by people’s lack of recognition of their weight status.

The study, published in BMJ Open, examined participants’ perception of their weight by using data from two population based surveys, each of around 2000 people, carried out in 2007 and 2012. From those groups 160 men and 182 women in 2007 and 166 men and 149 women in 2012 self reported weights and heights that gave them a body mass index of 30 or over, which placed them in the “obese” category.

This group of obese men and women were then asked to identify themselves as obese, very overweight, overweight, about right, underweight, or very underweight. Of the obese women only 13% in 2007 and 11% in 2012 correctly described themselves as obese, and among obese men only 4% in 2007 and 7% in 2012 accurately did so.

The researchers acknowledged that the term “obese” was widely perceived as stigmatising and might have been rejected for that reason. However, most obese women did not even identify themselves as being “very overweight.” Among obese women the recognition that they were substantially overweight (obese or very overweight) sharply declined from 50% in 2007 to 34% in 2012. This did not significantly change in men: 27% in 2007 and 23% in 2012.

Around 10% of participants were aware of the body mass index threshold for obesity—a proportion that remained about the same in both surveys. And those who did know the threshold were more likely to correctly define themselves as obese, the researchers found.

Jane Wardle, coauthor of the study and director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, said, “It’s a real worry that people don’t recognise that their weight places them in the obese category, because it means they aren’t aware that they are at increased risk of a number of health problems including cancer. This is despite increased media coverage of obesity, and public health campaigns aimed at improving public awareness.”

She added, “We need to establish better ways for health professionals to address this sensitive subject and communicate with people whose health would benefit from positive lifestyle changes.”

One limitation of the study was that it relied on people self reporting their height and weight, so it is likely that some obese participants were excluded. A higher proportion of women in the survey sample declined to provide height and weight information in 2012 than in 2007, which may reflect increasing sensitivity about body weight issues.

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