The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Do Americans think they're thinner than they really are?

Posted in
Live well

Friday, Sep 10, 2010

According to a recent poll, Americans do think they are thinner than they really are. Almost 2,500 American adults were asked through an online survey to report their height, weight, and perceived category of weight - underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. The Harris Interactive/HealthDay pollsters calculated each person's body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height and determined their actual weight category.

Results showed:

  • 30% of the those in the "overweight" BMI category believed they were "normal weight"
  • 70% of those in the "obese" BMI category believed they were just "overweight"
Most survey responders who felt they were heavier than they should be blamed too little exercise, rather than poor eating habits. Fifty-two percent of the obese and 75 percent of the obese and morbidly obese felt they didn't exercise enough. Contrastingly, only 36 percent of overweight responders, 48 percent of obese responders, and 28 percent of morbidly obese responders reported eating more than they "should in general."

In terms of weight loss interventions, responders felt that surgery (gastric bypass, stomach stapling) were most effective followed by prescription drugs, then drugs and diet-food supplements obtained over-the-counter.

What is your take on the stats from this survey? Here are some thoughts to ponder...

  • Obesity rates are continuing to rise in America because people don't realize they're overweight or the severity of their problem and, thus are less likely to do anything about it.
  • Obesity is the new norm and children are growing up surrounded by obesity believing that high weights are normal and okay.
  • The word "exercise" leads to visions of fit people jumping around in spandex, which intimidates or overwhelms overweight/obese people, making them less likely to do any physical activity at all; likewise, overweight/obese people don't realize that walking outside and increasing lifestyle physical activities (e.g., taking the stairs instead of the elevator) can burn significant amounts of calories - without a gym membership or special equipment.
  • Americans want a quick-fix for their weight and have tried and failed over and over with special diets and exercise.¬†
Others may argue that the whole premise of this poll was wrong and that BMI is not a good indicator of overweight and obesity since it doesn't take into consideration fat and fat-free mass or that there really shouldn't be "ideal body weights" or desired "weight categories." Instead, recommendations should be refocused from weight loss alone, which is often aimed at appearance, to weight management, achieving the best weight possible in the context of overall health. Afterall, research shows that a 5 to 10 percent weightloss results in significant health benefits, regardless of whether a "normal" BMI is ever achieved. And studies also show that unrealistic weight loss expectations leads to failed attempts. Unfortunately, there's no "quick fix and forget it" for weight loss.

Share your thoughts!

HealthDay News, Initials. (2010, September 2). Many Americans don't even know they're fat. Retrieved from