Weighed Down with Misconceptions

NORC survey reveals Americans don’t understand causes, treatment options for obesity.


Overweight or obese Americans are often stigmatized as gluttonous and lazy. New research shows that while Americans have strong feelings about obesity, they also have many misconceptions.

According to a press release issued by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, a new survey revealed that while many Americans understand the dangers of obesity, most don’t understand its causes or effective treatment options.

Researchers believe this lack of understanding may contribute to the dangers of obesity as well as to its prevalence.

The survey was conducted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the NORC at the University of Chicago.

The nationally representative survey of 1,509 adults included samples of African-Americans and Hispanics. Those groups reported the highest rates of obesity. The survey was conducted between Aug. 11 and Sept. 21, 2016, either over the phone or online.

"This survey reveals that Americans understand the risks of obesity better than ever, but hold major misperceptions about the causes of the disease, the effectiveness of the different treatments and the importance of involving the medical community in their care," Raul J. Rosenthal, MD, President of ASMBS, said in the press release.

The ASMBS/NORC Obesity Poll found that 81 percent of Americans consider obesity the most serious health problem in America. In reality, heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents in the US.

The poll found that 94 percent of Americans surveyed believe that obesity itself increases the risk for early death. And public opinion is right--obesity is a known risk factor for a number of serious health complications, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

However, despite the public understanding of obesity’s seriousness, the poll revealed the majority of Americans incorrectly perceive diet and exercise alone to be the most effective long-term weight loss method. Researchers said this method is too simple of a solution to a complex disease like obesity.

Although 94 percent of obese people polled reported attempting to lose weight, only one in three obese people polled reported talking with a health care professional about their weight. Only 12 percent of severely obese people polled said that a doctor has ever suggested they consider surgery.

"I think obesity may be the only life-threatening disease where more than a third of the patients do not consult a doctor for treatment, and where the vast majority do not explore other treatment options that may yield better long-term success rates,” Dr. Rosenthal said in the press release.

Despite misconceptions, the poll found that one in three Americans worry about gaining weight, and 54 percent of obese people report chronic worry about their weight. The findings suggest that there’s a significant need for obesity education in America.

To read the full survey, visit the following: http://www.norc.org/PDFs/ASMBS%20Obesity/Issue%20Brief%20B_ASMBS%20NORC%20Obesity%20Poll.pdf.

This survey was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago with funding from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

It was presented at the Obesity Week 2016 conference in New Orleans.

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