Americans in Denial About Weight

Discussion
Apr 13, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Americans know an overweight person when they see one, unless, of course, they happen to be looking in the mirror.


A survey of adults in the U.S. by the Pew Research Center found that, although 90 percent believe the majority of Americans are overweight, only 39 percent believe they fall into that classification.


Survey respondents also believe the issue is becoming more pronounced. Eighty-five percent of Americans are more overweight now than five years ago. Sixty-seven percent see this issue as a major problem.


The report, Americans See Weight Problems Everywhere But In the Mirror, found it is common for members of both sexes to overestimate their height while underestimating their weight. The result is that most do not see themselves as being overweight, even though government statistics say 65 percent of Americans were either overweight or obese.


The good news for restaurants, food manufacturers and retailers is that consumers believe that individual weight problems have more to do with a lack of personal responsibility than anything being done by outside parties.


A lack of exercise and restraint in making the right food choices are the two most often mentioned reasons given by respondents to explain the numbers of overweight people in society.


Even those getting exercise believe they could be doing more. Fifty-seven percent said they are engaged in regular physical activity but 70 percent, whether on an exercise program or not, thought they could or should be doing more.


The research also contradicted previous findings about the issues that overweight people face in society. While 91 percent said being overweight had either a little or a lot to do with the perception of physical beauty, only 12 percent report being treated badly because of their weight. The number of those feeling as if they were treated badly was higher among women (16 percent) than men (7 percent).


Moderator’s Comment: Are Americans in denial about their weight issues? What are the implications for the manufacturing,
foodservice and retailing communities?
– George Anderson – Moderator

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12 Comments on "Americans in Denial About Weight"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

There is too much weight and body consciousness for people to be truly considered in denial. Whatever we may say in a survey, I think most of us have a pretty good idea of whether or not we are overweight (although, to be fair, the definition can vary from one person to another). With regard to implications, there are already many signs of confusion and information overload about nutrition and exercise and what we should and shouldn’t be doing in order to possibly maybe somehow prevent some illnesses. The one thing that I think really is hitting home is the awareness of childhood obesity. Concerns for children are as close to universal as anything can get. And if setting a good example helps reduce or prevent its incidence, then I think there are opportunities to encourage adults to alter their own behaviour.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
14 years 10 months ago

These results make complete sense to me. A person’s self-image is driven more by what they believe than what they see. This same mechanism results in a dangerously underweight person looking in the mirror and seeing someone who is overweight.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Increasingly, I see this as a cultural/regional issue. Since relocating to Northwest Arkansas (from Denver), I do see more overweight people (no surprise) and I also see refrigerators stocked with “low carb” this and “low sugar” that (with a few six packs of Slim Fast thrown in). Contrast that with Denver where even the poorest students try to buy organic (even for their dogs). With Supervalu’s launch of the Sunflower Market concept, organics and eating close to the ground (the real secret to weight loss) will be democratized and I believe that everyone will also have unprecedented access to information (as pointed out in previous postings regarding retailers-as-educators and partners in health). In other words, the big CPG firms may have something to worry about as ALL consumers move away from quick-fix claims and gain access to truly healthy foods that encourage healthy weight by extension.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 10 months ago
This topic seems to involve many tangled emotional issues for our society. As the Pew study says, 51% of people are overweight but don’t think they are. And look at some of our own data: 89% of men and women identified as “most attractive” male bodies with 15% body fat and female bodies with 18% body fat, yet less than 8% of the population fall into this category. Eleven percent of people say they think they are “somewhat attractive,” “attractive,” or “very attractive.” Of the other 89%, 92% of them say that the primary reason they are not more attractive is that they are “too fat.” In other words, fat is ugly, we are fat, so we are ugly. Some of our other data shows that we buy pretty clothes modeled by pretty people to look pretty and therefore be pretty, and that we buy products of numerous kinds to try to be pretty. The data suggests that we don’t like ourselves much. One of the big reasons people overeat, according to our data, is… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 10 months ago
Last night Jay Leno featured guest Jamie Foxx, being celebrated as only the fourth performer in history to win an Oscar and have a #1 album in the same year (Streisand, Sinatra, and Crosby, as long as you’re asking). Before performing one of his hit songs, Foxx described at length his attraction to what he called “thick” women. While funny, it was definitely from the heart. “Thick” women in the audience responded with a Standing O (that’s ovation, not the other “o”). Borrowing from a Streisand lyric, since she’s already been introduced to the discussion, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world” (yes, I know it’s vapid). But, the underlying truth is that as long as we can be intimately accepted and cherished by another, we don’t give two hoots and a holler about being perfectly sized. Men lust for Mo’Nique, star of Phat Girlz; Queen Latifah, rapper turned diva; and Mae West, film star of the 30s and 40s. All thick women. By today’s standards, even Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren,… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Forty-two years ago, the Surgeon General released his report on the dangers of smoking. Nowadays, smoking is on the decline, but it took many years for this behavioral change. Food is certainly as addictive as tobacco. So it might take a long time for Americans to control their weight. Certainly, denial was/is a great defense for smoking. Why should eating be any different?

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

When I shop Whole Foods or Wegmans, for example, it is easy to believe that these stores are my partners in health. That they tell the truth, and have information I can use. It’s all around you; in fliers, merchandising, shelf talkers and knowledgeable associates. Even for healthy “wannabe’s” who basically live on junk food, this has appeal. I don’t know why more retailers don’t become the shopper’s advocate in this manner. It’s not rocket science, and the success of these outlets is obvious. Yet all the ads still focus on price. No, you can’t get away from that entirely, but more retailers should study a Whole Foods or Wild Oats flier once in awhile. I’m ever hopeful that society has actually received its wakeup call, and people are being more careful about what they eat. Sales growth of “healthy” food is one barometer, but so is the continued strong sales of junk food. This will be a long, slow process — like how our attitudes towards smoking have changed over the past 35 years.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
14 years 10 months ago

I don’t know about denial in this case. Thirty-nine percent said they felt that they were overweight. Saying you are comfortable with your weight does not mean that you are not aware of what it takes to maintain a healthy weight…however, you define it for yourself. I do believe that the statistics on childhood obesity and its impact on our children’s lives will serve as a catalyst for getting Americans more “health” focused.

The implications may be a greater push for more legislation if we (the food community) don’t get visibly proactive in a big way and maintain that proactivity.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
14 years 10 months ago

There is plenty of opportunity for retailers, knowing that consumers are overweight yet in denial about it. How about sampling healthier products? How about tie-ins with local 5K runs/walks? How about discounts and specials on produce, healthy foods, exercise clothes/equipment tied into local events, seasons, spring cleaning, etc? The possibilities are endless if you think about it – sell more and do some good at the same time. All it takes is a little creativity and a little extra effort – which is what it takes to lose the extra pounds most of us carry around.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Of course we’re in denial. As a society (and as individuals) we eat too much and exercise (even moderately) too little. The fast food industry knows that — and all about our profound love of salt, fat and sugar — so the odds are nothing will change.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

The results of this study are not surprising. However, I believe that as a culture we are starting to address the overweight/obesity issue in this country. Recent government data reported that while the number of men and children who are either overweight or obese continues to grow, the percent of women in these same categories has flattened.

In my opinion, the impetus for this shift is the alarming data on the incidence of child obesity and the diabetic ramifications. To date, we have been a NATO nation, “no action, talk only,” which in large measure validates the results of this study presented by RetailWire. I anticipate that the introduction of the deleterious impact of excessive weight on our children will shift us to TATO, “take action, talking’s over.”

Christopher Fink, CMC
Guest
Christopher Fink, CMC
14 years 10 months ago

Being overweight is more “fashionable” today than 25 years ago, especially among the young. This appears to translate to less social pressure to “take the weight off.” Aging will take care of the procrastinators as health problems creep up on them. And what if society accepts an obesity surcharge by health insurers, airlines, etc.?

Nonetheless, no one chooses to be heavy; so weight loss is a large, growing business with a bright future. This trend has significant “buzz” that can be leveraged by the firms in the right position.

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