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Many overweight US adults see themselves as being at right weight

Reuters Health • The Doctor's Channel Daily Newscast

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Almost a quarter of overweight women and nearly a half of overweight men in the US think there’s nothing wrong with their weight.

That’s one of the finding from an analysis of nationally representative data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted between 2003 and 2008.

In the introduction to their report in the International Journal of Obesity online November 2, Dr. Sunil K. Agarwal and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, point out that perceived weight status may affect an individual’s motivation to lose weight, and correction of weight perception by a health care professional may reinforce weight-loss motivation.

To look into these issues, the researchers combined statistics from three 2-year NHANES cycles.

“A large proportion of US adults, 64.3%, reported having a desire to lose weight,” the investigators found. However, the data also showed that only 37% of the population actually tried to lose weight.

There were considerable discrepancies between actual weight and perceived weight. For example, 23.4% of overweight women and 48.1% of overweight men saw themselves as having the right weight. Even in the obese category, 5.1% of women and 13.0% of men classified themselves as being at the right weight.

”Overweight self-perception was the most important predictor of desire to weigh less and pursuit of weight control,” according to the report.

The great majority of those who perceived themselves as overweight (98.3% women, 95.2% men) reported a desire to weigh less, as did most of those who received a diagnosis of overweight/obesity from a health care professional (93.9% women, 91.4% men), the data indicate. However, 74% of overweight subjects and 29% of obese individuals had never had a professional diagnosis of overweight/obesity.

“Health care professionals have unused opportunities to motivate their patients to control and possibly lose weight by correcting weight perceptions and offering counseling on healthy weight loss strategies,” Dr. Agarwal and colleagues conclude.


Perceived weight status, overweight diagnosis, and weight control among US adults: the NHANES 2003–2008 Study

Int J Obesity 2010.