Brits still in the dark about how obese they are

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Brits are still unaware about their obesity status as more than third (36 per cent) of UK adults, who think they are just overweight, are actually clinically obese and at risk of suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other such major health problems, a new international study carried out by independent strategic insight agency Opinium, in collaboration with the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) has found.

The survey also found that over a fifth of Britons (21 per cent) consider themselves as having a normal or healthy weight, but are actually overweight.

The international survey of 14,000 people across Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and the
United Kingdom found that Britons are unaware about their true weight category, and yet despite this 71 per cent claim that they personally known someone who they would consider obese.

Another startling finding was the less than a fifth of UK adults identify obesity as a disease, which is the lowest proportion in Europe. Nearly half of Belgians (46 per cent) and almost two thirds of the French (65 per cent) identify obesity as a disease.

The survey also concluded that Brits are more likely than many of their European counterparts to link rising levels of obesity to poor lifestyle choices, rather than blame genetics or health problems.

Professor Pinki Sahota, Deputy Chair of The Association for the Study of Obesity, said: ‘Obesity is one of the fastest growing threats to the health and wellbeing of our society. In some parts of the UK as many as seven out of ten adults are now classified as overweight or obese and by 2030 it is predicted that this could rise even higher. And yet, this survey shows that many people still appear to have little understanding of what equals a healthy weight.’

The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recent report on world obesity predicts that 74 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women in the UK will be overweight by 2030. Taking this into account and the country’s government estimates, the National Health Services (NHS) will be immense pressure over the course of next few years with the government having to spend a whopping £50 billion by 2050.

The Association for the Study of Obesity in the UK (ASO) said the research highlights the need for better education around obesity, its treatment and effects in the UK.

Gap in public perception

The latest survey highlights a major worrying point – the gap between public perception, and the increasing consensus within the medical profession that obesity is and should be viewed as a medical condition.

Britons are failing to recognise the medical causes of obesity, but more than half agree that obesity surgery may be an appropriate treatment for obesity. Further, almost a third of people say they would consider surgery if they were obese, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) consider surgery as the most effective treatment for morbid obesity, and half of those who view themselves as obese say they would consider it.

Some positives

Positively, research revealed Britons have a higher level of awareness than many on the continent about the health risks of being too heavy, including related problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, joint and back pain. A total of 83% knew of a link between obesity and diabetes, compared to 76% overall in Europe.

Professor Sahota, of ASO said: ‘The new Government, policymakers and health authorities should be greatly concerned by the findings of this survey. It confirms much greater effort is needed to educate people about the fact obesity is a disease. It is clear the vast majority of people regard obesity as a problem purely of personal lifestyle, rather than recognising there are other underlying issues which society needs to address.

‘There is an urgent need for better education to improve understanding and to inform overweight or obese people about the support and, if appropriate, treatments that can help them avoid the many secondary conditions like heart disease. Major policy change is needed and a first step must be improving awareness of the challenge faced.’