Obesity ties cancer as top health threat, bigger than heart disease and diabetes for most Americans

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Americans take obesity as seriously as cancer, and say it’s an even bigger health threat than heart disease, the nation’s leading killer.

However, most people do not go beyond traditional diets or involving doctors in their largely unsuccessful personal struggles against the disease, according to a new survey by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

The findings were released here during ObesityWeek 2016, the largest international event focused on the basic science, clinical application and prevention and treatment of obesity.

The survey finds that 81% of Americans consider obesity to be the most serious health problem facing the nation, tying cancer as the top issue, ahead of diabetes (72%), heart disease (72%), mental illness (65%), and HIV/AIDS (46%).

In 2011- 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the prevalence of obesity was more than 36% in adults, a number that has grown significantly in the last 10 years.

Nearly everyone (94%) agrees that obesity itself increases the risk for an early death, even if no other health problems are present, according to the new poll.

Yet, despite the seriousness with which they take the threat, the vast majority of Americans incorrectly perceive diet and exercise alone to be the most effective long-term weight loss method.

In addition, 1 in 3 of those struggling with obesity, reporting that they have never spoken with a doctor or health professional about their weight.

Only 12% of those with severe obesity, for whom weight-loss surgery may be an option, say a doctor has ever suggested they consider surgery.

The survey also finds about 60% of Americans are currently trying to lose weight, although most everyone with obesity has tried before (94%).

More than half of those with obesity have tried at least 5 previous times, and 1 in 5 have made more than 20 attempts to lose weight over their lifetimes.

Only 22% of obese Americans rate their health positively, and half report being diagnosed with two or more chronic conditions.

Most Americans consider diet and exercise on one’s own to be the most effective method (78%) for long-term weight loss, saying it’s even more effective than weight-loss surgery (60%) and prescription obesity drugs (25%).

When it comes to safety, 88% of Americans say losing weight through diet and exercise, especially with the help of a doctor, is the safest way to go, while prescription medications (15%) and dietary supplements (16%) are perceived to be the least safe.

As for weight-loss surgery, Americans are divided, with about one-third of each who believe it to be safe (31%), unsafe (37%), or neither safe nor unsafe (31%).

Despite the mixed feelings, a majority of Americans (68%) think that living with obesity is still riskier than having weight-loss surgery.

Using self-reported height and weight to calculate body mass index, the survey assessed a person’s perceptions of their own weight status, and 57% of obese respondents underestimated where they were.

Almost half (47%) said they were overweight or about the right weight (10%). Men were more likely to underestimate their weight than women (66% vs. 50%).

Part of the issue may be that the public thinks about obesity differently than the medical community.

While health professionals have generally reached consensus that obesity is a disease (the American Medical Association and other medical groups declared it so in 2013), little more than one-third (38%) of Americans agree, with most considering it simply a risk factor for other diseases.

Additionally, health experts say obesity is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors, yet many Americans (48%) believe it is caused primarily by a person’s lifestyle choices and that the biggest barrier to weight loss is a lack of willpower (75%).

For many Americans, concerns about their weight can dominate their life.

The survey found that 1-in-3 of all Americans worry about gaining weight all or a good deal of the time, but that those with obesity are more than twice as likely to report being chronically worried (54%) than non-obese individuals (20%).

Of those who worry about their weight, the majority is extremely or very concerned about the health consequences.

In fact, it appears nearly all Americans (98%) at this point know about the increased risk that obesity poses for developing diabetes and most know about the increased risk for developing certain types of cancer (82%).

Two reports are associated with the survey: “Obesity Rises to Top Health Concern for Americans, but Misperceptions Persist,” and, “New Insights into Americans’ Perceptions and Misperceptions of Obesity Treatments, and the Struggles Many Face.”

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News source: NORC at The University of Chicago.
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