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Surveys show that Americans believe that obesity is tied with cancer as the greatest threat to health. But they aren't able to use diets and exercise to get thin.

Fat shaming is a shame.

Scientific research shows that diet is not enough to overcome obesity. Neither is exercise the sure way to weight loss success. Obesity and morbid obesity don't yield to a combination of diet and exercise, either, at least not very long. But stubbornly ignoring the facts, Americans by and large believe that obese people got that way by eating too much so fat is their fault.

What Do Americans Believe About Obesity and Morbid Obesity?

In 2016 the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery funded a research group called the Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to survey Americans to determine their beliefs about obesity and how to deal with. As most Americans know from election polls, there can be some very serious shortcomings in the analysis of survey data. The researchers used a system called Amerispeak, in which panels of individuals rather than single individuals were asked multiple questions about many different topics to minimize bias and problems with sample selection. Interviews were conducted between August 11 and September 21, 2016, by Internet and also using both landlines and cell phones.

The survey found that:

  • Nearly all (94 percent of) Americans believe that obesity increases the risk of dying early.
  • Nearly all (also 94 percent of) obese Americans have tried to lose weight.
  • Relatively few (38 percent of) Americans believe that obesity itself is a disease.
  • Americans consider obesity a more serious threat to health than diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, or AIDS, but most do not speak with their doctors about how to treat it.
  • A majority of Americans who are clinically obese believe they are actually just "overweight."

The survey also found that people who are obese see doctors less often, twice a year or less. It found that white Americans tend to worry about the connection between obesity and heart disease, African-Americans are on average less concerned about diabetes than other groups despite having a higher risk of the disease than other groups, and Hispanics more than any other group are likely to have tried to diet and failed.

Of greatest concern to the researchers was the general misunderstanding of why people get fat. Experts believe that obesity is due to a combination of 

And What Do Americans Believe About How to Lose Weight?

NORC also surveyed Americans on their beliefs about how to lose weight. The survey found that 60 percent of Americans are currently trying to lose weight. Four in five Americans believe that the best way to lose weight is through a combination of diet and exercise. One in five Americans who are obese have tried to lose weight 20 or more times without success.

Relatively few (about one-third of) Americans have confidence in herbs, supplements, medications, or meal replacements as useful ways to lose weight. Of the reasons obese Americans give for not losing weight:

  • 49 percent claim there aren't enough places for exercise that are safe and affordable.
  • 51 percent would have weight loss surgery (41 percent are actually medically eligible) but their insurance does not pay for it.
  • 67 percent say that healthy foods are just too expensive.
  • 70 percent say that they spend too much time in front a TV or computer.
  • 83 percent say that they just don't have the willpower.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • University of Chicago Press Release. New Survey Shows Obesity Ties Cancer as Top Health Threat, Bigger Than Heart Disease and Diabetes for Most Americans More. 31 October 2016.
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