Obesity Survey

Surprising Misperceptions About Weight Status and Obesity Health Risks

Obesity SurveyAlthough the majority of the American public views obesity as a serious public health issue, a surprising number tend to misperceive their own weight status and do not fully understand all the health consequences of being obese, according to results from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey.

The results showed that nearly half of the overweight, but not obese, respondents misperceived their own weight status and thought their weight was about right. And while many of the respondents were aware of the link between obesity with heart disease and diabetes, most were less likely to mention other serious health impacts associated with being overweight or obese.


The survey involved questioning more than 1,000 adults to measure the general public’s opinion about obesity and obesity-related health issues in the United States. The findings provide an interesting look into the public’s perception of the causes and consequences of obesity and solutions for the obesity problem.

Significant Findings

Respondents were asked how much they weighed, how tall they were, and if they considered themselves to be underweight, overweight, or about right. The researchers used the information to assess an individual’s perception of their weight status and calculate BMI (Body Mass Index). The answers showed that many people are not fully aware of their own physical health.

  • 82% of obese respondents correctly classified themselves as overweight
  • Only 57% of overweight respondents correctly classified themselves as overweight
  • 41% of overweight, but not obese, respondents thought their weight was about right

Respondents were asked about the serious health impacts of being overweight or obese. The answers showed that the public is knowledgeable about some of the consequences of obesity but does not fully understand all the health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

  • 78% mentioned heart disease or heart attack
  • 70% mentioned diabetes
  • 21% mentioned high blood pressure
  • 14% mentioned arthritis or joint problems
  • 12% mentioned high cholesterol
  • 11% mentioned depression and mental health issues
  • 10% mentioned stroke
  • 8% mentioned death
  • 7% mentioned cancer
  • 5% mentioned asthma and respiratory problems
  • 1% mentioned kidney disease

The top three reasons respondents perceived as causing the increase in the rates of obesity were: Too much time spent in front of the television, video game and computer screens (97%); Fast food is inexpensive and easy to find (92%); People’s unwillingness to change (91%).

When asked about how much responsibility different groups share for solving the country’s obesity problem, 52% said it’s something individuals should deal with on their own, 34% said it’s something whole communities need to deal with, and 12% said it’s something to be shared by both individuals and communities.

About the Survey

The survey was conducted November 21 to December 14, 2012 by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago. Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 1,011 adults age 18 or older. The study had an overall margin of error of +/- 4.2 percent at the 95% confidence level.

Additional information and complete Topline Findings from the survey, “Obesity in the United States: Public Perceptions,” can be found on the AP-NORC Center’s website at www.apnorc.org.

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