Obesity a Top Health Concern for Americans, But Misperceptions Persist: Survey

By Reuters Staff

November 07, 2016

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Roughly eight in 10 Americans view obesity as the most serious health problem facing the nation, tying cancer as the top issue, and well ahead of diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS, according to a new survey.

Yet, most Americans incorrectly think diet and exercise is the best way to lose weight and keep it off. One in three Americans with obesity have never spoken with a doctor or health professional about their weight problems. And only 12% of Americans who are severely obese, for whom bariatric surgery may be an option, report that a physician has ever suggested they consider the surgery.

"This survey reveals that Americans understand the risks of obesity better than ever, but hold major misperceptions about the causes of the disease, the effectiveness of the different treatments and the importance of involving the medical community in their care," Dr. Raul J. Rosenthal, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), said in a news release.

"I think obesity may be the only life-threatening disease where more than a third of the patients do not consult a doctor for treatment, and where the vast majority do not explore other treatment options that may yield better long-term success rates," added Dr. Rosenthal, chairman of the department of general surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston.

The survey of a nationally representative sample of roughly 1,500 adults was conducted by the ASMBS and the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago and released November 1 during ObesityWeek 2016.

The survey also shows that about 60% of Americans are currently trying to lose weight, and the vast majority with obesity has tried before (94%). More than half of those with obesity have tried at least five times in the past to lose weight; one in five have made more than 20 attempts to lose weight.

More than three quarters (78%) of respondents consider diet and exercise to be the most effective method for long-term weight loss.

"Diet and exercise alone is simply not the most effective long-term treatment. It's an important component, but on its own, it's probably the least effective option for most people with obesity," Dr. John M. Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and ASMBS immediate past president, said in the release.

"We have to get people, and even the medical community, to go beyond 'eat less and exercise more.' That's too simple an answer for a complex disease like obesity. We have an expanding spectrum of treatments and many are underutilized because they are misperceived or poorly understood," Dr. Morton said.

Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed say losing weight through diet and exercise is the safest way to go, while prescription anti-obesity medications (15%) and dietary supplements (16%) are perceived as the least safe. As for bariatric surgery, Americans are divided, with about one-third of each who view it as safe (31%), unsafe (37%), or neither safe nor unsafe (31%). Yet most Americans (68%) think that living with obesity is riskier than having weight-loss surgery.

While the American Medical Association and other medical groups declared obesity a disease in 2013, only 38% of those surveyed viewed it as such, with most considering obesity simply a risk factor for other diseases. In addition, while obesity may be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors, 48% of those surveyed believe it is caused largely by a person's lifestyle choices and that the biggest barrier to weight loss is a lack of willpower (75%).

The full survey results are available in two reports online at: https://bit.ly/2fE9fq2

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2fE9fq2