Evidence of a Big Shift in Attitudes about Obesity

American Views on Obesity Are ChangingResearch presented at ObesityWeek 2014 by ConscienHealth founder Ted Kyle, Diana Thomas of Montclair State University, and Adam Tsai of Kaiser Permanente has found evidence of a big shift in attitudes about obesity among American adults and healthcare professionals. Significantly fewer Americans are viewing obesity as a “personal problem of bad choices” in 2014 than in 2013. Instead, the proportion viewing obesity as a “community problem of bad food and inactivity” rose from 26% in August 2013 to 39% in May of 2014. Kyle said:

Despite the high prevalence of obesity in the U.S. and worldwide, weight bias and stigma continue to complicate clinical and policy approaches to obesity treatment. The goal of our study was to measure any shifts that might affect or result from public policy changes.

Our results show a significant shift in perceptions of obesity in 2014, with the percent of Americans seeing obesity as a community problem increasing as much as 13% and the percent of healthcare professionals increasing 18%. Surprisingly, the percent of healthcare professionals who view obesity primarily as a medical problem actually decreased between 2013 and 2014. This trend bears watching.

Data also show differences among various demographic groups. In 2014, younger and higher income respondents more likely view obesity as a community problem. Older respondents more likely view it as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents more likely view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices.

The researchers observed little evidence of impact from the 2013 decision of American Medical Association to classify obesity as a chronic disease, but concluded that substantial news and social media attention for the documentary film Fed Up may have influenced perceptions of obesity.

Commenting on the study, Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity said:

Obesity is one of the most complex, chronic medical conditions and successful treatment often requires the support and care of healthcare professionals. These trends are encouraging because they suggest a shift away from simplistic, biased views that focus on personal blame. The more that people recognize shared risks for obesity, the more likely they are to support evidence-based approaches to reducing obesity’s impact. Addressing weight bias is essential in efforts to effectively prevent and treat obesity, and will bring us one step closer to improving the quality of life for people affected by obesity.

Click here to read the full study.

SHIFT Key, photograph © Leo Reynolds / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.