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In gauging own weight, many of us are clueless

Are you obese, overweight, of normal weight -- or perhaps morbidly obese?

Apparently many of us have no clue.

A new survey of more than 2,400 adults conducted by Harris Interactive in mid-August showed that people's perceptions of their weight don't match what their BMIs say.

In an online survey, participants were asked their height and weight and which of those weight categories they fit in. Based on the height and weight information presented, survey staffers calculated each respondent's BMI, or body-mass index, a tool commonly (though not necessarily appropriately, according to this) used to assess weight.

Here were the key findings, as reported by Harris International:

  • 30 percent of overweight people think they're actually normal size, 70 percent of obese people feel they are merely overweight, and 39 percent of morbidly obese people think they are overweight but not obese.
  • .
  • Most respondents who felt they were heavier than they should be blamed lack of exercise as the main cause, with 52 percent of overweight people, 75 percent of obese people and 75 percent of morbidly obese people saying they didn't exercise enough.
  • Food consumption was seen as the lesser of two culprits, with 36 percent of overweight respondents, 48 percent of obese respondents and 27 percent of those morbidly obese feeling they ate more than they "should in general."
  • On the subject of weight-loss remedies, the poll found Americans deemed surgery the most effective method, followed by prescription drugs, then drugs and diet-food supplements obtained over-the-counter.

How would you have fared on the survey? Try this at home: weigh yourself, measure your height, guess which weight category you fit in, then calculate your BMI and see where you stand. Let me know, please, how you fare.

And have a safe and happy Labor Day!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 6, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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The first set of findings, which are essentially based on our own misperceptions of ourselves, is not surprising. When the majority of people are overweight, the new "norm" begins to be overweight. Thus, people use that, without realizing it, as their yardstick for judging themselves. Men are constantly being told that being skinny is un-masculine, thus leading to this desire to be a bit "beefier", which usually ends up meaning overweight.

Women, on the other hand, are getting feedback that all those "skinny" women are actually underweight when, in reality, most of those women's weights are perfectly normal (I'm not saying that some of these skinny women aren't getting there through poor eating habits or even eating disorders -- just simply that their weights are normal).

Anyway, when we judge ourselves, we almost always imagine we're not too far off from average. If the average is overweight, though, that means when we walk down the street, the majority of people we're looking at are overweight -- not something most of want to think about.

I should also note that women face another problem. Because BMI is affected by the square of one's height, 10 extra lbs on a 5'8" person is quite different from 10 extra lbs on a 5'2" person. Obviously, women are, on average, shorter than men. So, a few extra pounds on a woman can mean a lot more than on a man in terms of BMI.

We need to understand that human beings evolved to be, and should be, rather lithe creatures. Homo sapiens out-competed our "bigger-boned" cousins such as Neanderthals.

Posted by: rlalumiere | September 6, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but the BMI scale is a useless tool for gauging obesity or over-weightedness. While playing a Division I college sport, I was 5' 11", weighed 192 lbs with a body fat percentage of 6.9%. Definitely not obese, over weight or anything close, but according to the BMI scale I was over weight. Even today, 20 yrs later, I'm 190 lbs with a body fat % of 16.8%. I consider myself slightly over weight but at 45, I'm ok with it. We need to start using a real measure of weight, not some arbitary scale so people can really see what's going on with their bodies.

Posted by: twotoetommy | September 6, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

113 lbs and 5'5" - I guessed normal weight...and I was pretty close. BMI of 18.5 is right on the edge of underweight and normal weight.

Posted by: a_fed_at_home | September 6, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

BMI calculators are on many web sites. Here is one from the National Institutes of Health:

Paying attention and controlling your diet is the best approach. Avoid all soft drinks. Avoid foods with empty calories. Make smoothies with your blender and add fruit. Buy a modern pressure cooker and use it to cook most of your meals, instead of eating fast or processed foods.

Posted by: alance | September 6, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

"I'm sorry, but the BMI scale is a useless tool for gauging obesity or over-weightedness. While playing a Division I college sport, I was 5' 11", weighed 192 lbs with a body fat percentage of 6.9%"

Data is not the plural of anecdote!

The fact that the BMI index does not work for everybody doesn't make it useless. Rather it means that you were an outlier in the data.

Unless you think that people playing Div I college sports are somehow part of the mainstream?

You're a college graduate, I assume you took statistics and understand why the BMI scale is useful for the majority of people?

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | September 6, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Ombudsman1 is right. BMI is a simple tool designed to illustrate for the average American whether he or she is overweight or not. If you know your body fat to within a tenth of a percentage point, then by definition BMI isn't going to tell you anything you don't already know.

The overwhelming majority of Americans with high BMIs are fat and need to lose weight. Period.

Posted by: simpleton1 | September 6, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

So you're saying that most Americans are fat and stupid. Why is this news? I could have told you that and saved whatever amount of money and time were wasted conducting this survey.

Posted by: Axel2 | September 6, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

BMI scale is the equivalent of cholesterol readings before ldl/hdl were commonly understood. Nobody serious about their health uses BMI as a measure of anything.

Posted by: divi3 | September 6, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

yeah that is true, major brands do give out free samples of their popular health products best place to check is send it to your friends

Posted by: glennmark | September 7, 2010 3:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm 5'5" and 125 lbs - I already knew I was normal weight. I'm in my 60's and have never been overweight. I eat well and exercise. I also have a much smaller than average waist size which is probably a better indicator of whether one needs to change one's diet or exercise routine.

Posted by: DianeErwin | September 7, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Just as many of us do not know our own BMI, even fewer know how to identify and manage food cravings that tend to help us become overweight. Solutions such as "MyHealthTrends for Weight Control" can help educate those trying to lose weight or manage sugar/carb/fat cravings. Like other forms of addiction, food cravings can be managed--leading to a lower BMI.

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