Monday, May 16, 2011

Obese Americans Are in Denial About Their Own Health and Doing Little to Change Their Destiny

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Most Americans who are overweight or obese – even those who are well-educated – see themselves as being in good health even though they appear to be well aware of the dangers of obesity, a new study finds.

Their level of concern about the danger their weight poses to their health is reflected in their exercise patterns, according to the study. More than half either don’t exercise at all or merely engage in naturally occurring exercise, such as walking up the stairs in their own home.

The study, conducted by Catalyst Healthcare Research, a nationally recognized leader in healthcare research, found that 60 percent of Americans say obesity is the number one threat to public health, far outdistancing cancer, in second place with 16 percent. Researchers interviewed 1500 Americans ages 18 to 65.

Of those considered to be obese or overweight, 11 percent of those who responded to the survey considered themselves to be in excellent health, and an additional 61 percent said they were in good health.

“These results suggest that many Americans are living in denial about their health status,” said Dan Prince, president of Catalyst Healthcare Research. ”Health advocates face a much deeper problem than merely persuading people of the benefits of losing weight -- they must find ways to help people face the hard truth about themselves.”

“The survey results suggest to us that many Americans may not connect their own weight or exercise level with perceptions of their overall fitness,” Prince added.

Sixty percent of those questioned in the Catalyst Healthcare Research study were overweight or obese as measured by their Body Mass Index, which relates a person’s weight to his or her height. That percentage is similar to the U.S. adult population at large. People who are overweight have a lower BMI than those considered obese, but both groups are considered by medical professionals to be at risk for serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Participants in the Catalyst Healthcare Research survey were asked whether they saw themselves as fitter, fatter or about the same as they were a year ago. Among obese/overweight study participants, 27 percent said they were fatter than they were a year ago. An additional 43 percent said they were about the same.

Among all survey participants who said they were fitter than they were a year ago – including those who were underweight, those who were normal weight, and those who were overweight/obese – only one in ten said that they weighed less than they did a year ago and exercised more than they did a year ago.

The reasons for not exercising ran the gamut among all participants, with time being the biggest enemy. But in the end, the result was the same – they were less fit than they could be.

There can be little doubt that obesity is a big -- and growing -- problem in the U.S. A recent McKinsey Quarterly report estimated the annual cost of obesity in the United States at $450 billion. That includes $160 billion in medical costs plus such items as absenteeism and decreased productivity on the job and the cost to individuals of extra food and plus-size clothing.

“It is vital to the health of our nation that we find ways to help people face the truth and take action to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said Melissa Johnson, former executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, who reviewed the findings.

For more details on the study, please visit the Catalyst Healthcare Research website.

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