Self-Perception of Overweight and Obesity, Part 2
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Misperception of Obesity
In “Trends in the Perception of Obesity,” published in Body Mind and Inspiration, author Raaj S. Mehta, AB, Harvard Medical School, claims that perception in obesity is an understudied topic in the treatment of obesity and, if better understood, could have tremendous implications for the epidemic.
Emerging evidence. Two landmark reports in the British Medical Journal and Obesity revealed that over the course of a decade, significantly fewer people are correctly identifying themselves as obese or overweight. In the U.S. data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) cohorts showed that from the period 1988 to 1994 to the period 1999 to 2004, the proportion of overweight women (as indicated by BMI) reporting that they were overweight fell by six percent. Likewise, from 1999 to 2007 in the United Kingdom, recognition of overweight status in overweight men and women fell by eight and seven percent, respectively.
Most striking of these results is that young people saw the biggest decline in the recognition of obesity, according to Mehta. In the U.S., there was an eight-percent decrease in accurate self-classification by female subjects with obesity aged 17 to 19 and an 11.5-percent decrease among males with obesity in the same age range. This subgroup also saw the largest increases in average BMI and adult obesity. In addition, a study from 2010, found that nearly 1 in 3 high school students in the United States who have overweight or obesity think they are at a normal weight.
Causes of Misperception of Obesity
Social comparison hypothesis. Social networks seem to facilitate the spread of obesity. Thus, as the number of people with obesity in one’s social circle increases, it becomes more and more acceptable to be obese. If the social comparison hypothesis holds true, and if the establishment of body image norms occurs largely during childhood, the increase in childhood misperception of weight class holds grave implications for the future prevalence of obesity.
Societal forces. While the social comparison theory applies to those close to an individual, Mehta believes that there must also be some larger societal pressure such as the effects of the media on an individual.
Addressing Misperception of Obesity
There is much to be done to curb the rise of obesity in our country and abroad. Great strides could be made if our environment were less obesogenic. In order to specifically reduce the rate of misperception of obesity, Mehta claims we may need to turn to primary care. An article published in the NEJM found that found that “enhanced lifestyle counseling” in the primary care setting helps one-third of patients to lose significant amounts of weight.
Furthermore, a simple diagnosis of obesity by a primary care physician —something that is rarely done — will more likely result in an action plan and weight loss, according to Mehta. This is especially important for the recognition of childhood obesity, since only one-quarter to one-third of parents have been reported to recognize overweight or obesity in their
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Published On: July 31, 2013