Obesity Back on Top Among Health Concerns

Gallup Most Urgent DiseasesRemember Ebola? That was so 2014. But with that problem solved, Americans are turning their attention back to obesity, which is again at the top of the list of the most urgent health concerns for adults in the U.S. This insight comes to us courtesy of the Gallup Organization, which has been polling the public about their health concerns since 1987.

Back then, AIDS was the #1 worry. It took until 2001 for it to fade from the American consciousness. Just behind obesity on the list of worries is cancer, a long-time source of concern. Obesity took its place ahead of cancer in 2008 and has mostly stayed there. The only greater worry is a more general set of concerns about costs, insurance, and access to care.

Gallup Attitudes About WeightThe problem with public concern about obesity is that it’s a bit hypothetical. Most people — including people who have obesity — speak of obesity as someone else’s problem. “I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I’m not obese” is a common sentiment we find in speaking with a broad sample of the public. In fact, Gallup reports that now less than half of U.S. adults (49%) say that they would like to lose weight, as compared to 41% who now say they would simply like to stay at their present weight. Their data suggest that this represents a decade-long shift in attitudes about weight that is still in progress.

The detachment from obesity stems, at least in part, from the stigma attached to it. There was a time when people didn’t talk about breast cancer because it was highly stigmatized. Now we have people walking proud with pink ribbons for themselves and loved ones. Likewise HIV and AIDS had a load of stigma to overcome. But with a mobilized HIV community and effective treatment, the stigma is now much less of a problem.

Obesity remains a uniquely stigmatized condition that is more or less visible in 37% of American adults. It hides in plain sight. A small and growing population of people affected by the disease are mobilized advocates for respect, education, and access to obesity care.

These people are the very heart of the Obesity Action Coalition and we are slowly, but surely, bringing real change to the way America deals with obesity.

Click here and here to read more from Gallup.

Concerned, photograph © Noël Zia Lee / flickr

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December 4, 2015