A False Choice: Obesity vs Fitness

One of the most vigorous debates we encounter centers on a false choice between two big health concerns: obesity vs fitness. Folks who have pledged loyalty to the cause of Health at Every Size® (HAES) believe that concerns about obesity are exaggerated and advocate for a greater focus on fitness as opposed to arbitrary weight goals. Some of these folks reject the notion of obesity as a health concern altogether. Others simply reject preoccupation with arbitrary norms for body weight.

To understand the diversity of views on this subject in the general public, we asked a large, representative sample of American adults for their opinion. The chart below summarizes what we learned.

Obesity vs Fitness

On the whole, Americans have a pretty balanced view of obesity, fitness, and health. Neither extreme — preoccupation with BMI or denial of obesity — dominates. About one in five adults believes that only fitness, not obesity, matters for health. Slightly but not significantly more agree that obesity is an important health concern. Many people fall right in the middle, indicating that both fitness and obesity are important health concerns.

Arya Sharma has summed up this balanced view quite well, writing:

As so often in medicine, I believe that the best approach probably lies in finding the middle ground between the two extremes of either automatically recommending weight loss to all patients with a BMI over 30 or simply accepting any amount of excess weight irrespective of its impact on health or quality of life.

“Empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.” — William Butler Yeats

Click here to read a perspective on the role for HAES in obesity and health policy. Click here to read more from Arya Sharma on the science behind HAES.

Choice, photograph © William Ward / flickr

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