Have People Stopped Worrying About Obesity?

Gallup: Americans' Desire to Lose WeightToday’s question crops up in many ways. We see research papers expressing fear that obesity is “becoming the new normal” or that parents are insufficiently concerned about their children’s weight. In this weight and fitness obsessed culture is it possible that people are not worrying enough about obesity?

Fewer People Trying to Lose Weight

Both Gallup and researchers from Georgia Southern University tell us that fewer Americans are trying to lose weight. Gallup reports that the number of Americans trying to lose weight hit its peak in the 2000s, when 59% of Americans were giving it a go.

One might rightly ask: did all that worrying about weight loss have much impact on obesity rates in the decade just past? We suppose not. While everyone was trying to lose weight, obesity rates marched ever higher. Prevalence now stands at a record high of 38%.

But No Lack of Concern

Obesity Health ConcernConscienHealth survey research does not suggest a drop in concern about obesity and health. In July of 2014, 38% of American adults told us that “obesity is an important health concern.” This week, that number stands at 43%. We asked people whether they believed obesity or fitness was a more important health concern.

Qualitatively, we are seeing less focus on the appearance of obesity and more focus on its health effects. People seem to be viewing weight differently, but not indifferently. Over at Weight Watchers, the company is finding success by promising health benefits “beyond the scale.”

So when Kassandra Snook et al express concern that “socially acceptable body weight is increasing,” we have a very different reaction. Social rejection and short-term weight loss efforts don’t help much. In fact, it’s a bit shocking to think that some people might want to see more social rejection, not less.

What does help is a better focus on long-term health. Long-term patterns of diet and physical activity matter more than short-term weight loss. Achieving better health and a sustainable healthy weight is a far more important goal.

Doing something about health beats worrying about weight every time.

For more on the shifting the focus in obesity from weight to health, click here.

Boredom, photograph © Chris / flickr

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July 7, 2017