Less than a tenth of clinically obese people think they’re obese

Less than ten per cent of clinically obese people in the UK accept they have a serious weight problem. This is the principal finding of a new study published today by Cancer Research UK, which has attracted the attention of the national newspapers.

The study, in which 650 obese adults were surveyed about their perception of their weight in 2007 and again in 2012, found that only 11 per cent of obese women and seven per cent of obese men acknowledged that they were obese. A further 23 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men admitted that they were “very overweight” but the remaining respondents believed they were simply “overweight”, or their weight was “just right.” The study also found that only ten per cent of people knew the body mass index (BMI) threshold for obesity was 30.

Co-author of the study and director of the Cancer Research UK health behaviour centre Professor Jane Wardle has suggested that individuals may reject using the term ‘obese’ as it is considered derogatory following its negative portrayal by the mass media, “in a way that people find offensive, with pictures of bulging beer bellies and huge behinds,” causing people to “shy away” from those images.  Professor Wardle has argued the need to establish better ways for health professionals to address the sensitive subject of obesity and communicate with those whose health would benefit from positive lifestyle changes.

The study highlights the increasing ‘normalisation’ of obesity and continued resistance to individuals in Britain identifying themselves as obese.