70% of Obese People Think They Are Just “Overweight”

By Mike Howard


The skewed perception of weight amongst North Americans is alive and well, and stretches to both extremes of the scale according to a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive and Healthday.

Here are the results of the poll;

  • 70 percent of obese people say they are merely overweight
  • 39 percent of morbidly obese people think they are overweight, but not obese.
  • 30 percent of people who are overweight think they are actually of “normal” size.

Not only do people have a distorted perception of their weight, but they are equally disillusioned about how to fix it, with respondents citing surgery as the most effective method of weight-loss, followed by prescription drugs, and over-the-counter diet-food supplements.

If this is an accurate representation of the country as a whole, it makes it hard to be optimistic about fixing the nations weight problem.

The stats aren’t terribly alarming when you stop and think, however. The prevalence of obesity has likely shifted peoples’ perception of what “normal” is.

Granted there are limitations to Body Mass Index (BMI). People can range into the “overweight” category, and still be healthy and “normal-for-them,” depending on their body type.

Perhaps it’s a semantics issue? The word “obese” has a more extreme connotation to it, and it may scare people to associate themselves with this term.

What perhaps may be considered alarming is that the majority surveyed feel surgery is the most effective way to lose weight, followed by diet drugs and supplements. When neither healthy eating nor exercise cracks the top 3, you know there’s a problem.

It speaks to a quick-fix mentality that is culturally ingrained in us. (Note: weight loss surgery isn’t a quick fix per se, and can certainly be effective in many circumstances).

On the other end of the spectrum, as many as 10 million females and one million males in the US are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorders.

Are you surprised by any of these statistics? To what do you attribute the slanted perception of weight?

Image Credit: Erix


  1. Success Story

    I agree with this article. I was severely obese, because I had a shape and I hung around large people I couldn’t see the magnitude of my size. I wasn’t aware and focused on my face and the waist up. It was easy because I am a pear shape.

    It had been so long since I had been in a mall so I didn’t have to see normal sie clothes. Plus size stores are often online and in strip malls so you are in and out.

    I would tell my self I’m healthy because I could move. I would tell myself I don’t want to be thin just a good size. I now know I told myself plenty of lies. When I look back at the pictures I’m sadden by what I see.

    Here’s the advantages of weight loss:
    You can move MORE
    You are less tired
    You have more friends
    You feel much better (I wasn’t aware that I didn’t feel good)
    Your energy is multiplied
    You want to be outside
    There is more to entertainment than food and movies
    You no longer want to hang around sedentary people.

    Life is better thinner and if you don’t believe me, tried it. You can always go back to being obese. Your clothes cost more, you have to be mindful of where you sit, small people ignore you the list is endless. Losing the weight can be scary but life is better on the other side of the scale.

  2. LBC

    I’m sick of people writing off health as being stick-thin. I’m in good shape but I’ll never be stick-thin. I don’t want to be stick thin. Not wanting, or not being able, to be stick thin is not a good excuse for giving up and badmouthing people who give a rat’s patooty about their health.

    What really honks me off is that there’s no middle ground. People act like if they can’t be Kate Moss, they might as well eat themselves to death. It’s ridiculous.

    • nickers

      I certainly agree, what needs to be taken into consideration is healthy BMI, and even more so body fat % and waist measurements. These are health indicators. There are tons of “stick thin” people who are unfit and unhealthy.

    • Pshh.

      NO one is asking anyone to be stick thin nor is it said anywhere here in this article that people should be STICK THIN. Just not to be overweight or obese. That’s a fair thing, there’s a reason why it’s called OVER weight.

      Also this article is about how many fat people are unable to recognize their true weight or weight issues. Deluding yourself to a degree of not realizing something as solidly based in reality as your body type/size means you must be really unhappy to end up coping only by deluding yourself in the first place.

  3. LBC

    Ditto. A friend of my mother’s just complained that I looked sick. I’m smack in the middle of my BMI range. I’m jogging again. I’m not hungry. I’m fine. I don’t look sick.

    Of course, I’m thinner than she and her daughters are, so maybe that’s the problem?

  4. nez pooj

    trust me you will loose that weight just excerise more

    • della

      lose not loose

    • hazel

      also its exercise*

  5. tynesha

    it’s okay people go through these types of stages you’ll get through it ok

  6. kate

    Blob, for the most part yes, men generally weigh more than women due to increased bone mass and muscle (despite their fat level).

    But I personally think they’d be better off scrapping BMI altogether and using waist circumference and body fat percentage.

  7. blob

    Perhaps there should be separate standards of bmi for men and women. If muscle weighs more than fat, then a man should weigh more at an optimum healthy weight than a woman, considering general differences in body composition between men and women.

  8. kate

    Women are supposed to have a higher percentage of body fat. BMI is not the estimated body fat percentage, having a BMI of 22 =/= 22% body fat.

    BMI is INDIRECTLY correlated with body fat percentage based on averages. For example the AVERAGE woman with a BMI of 22 might have 25%-28% body fat and the AVERAGE man with a BMI of 22 might have 15%-18% body fat (both healthy levels for their gender).

  9. Sarah

    These statistics are not surprising at all. Not only are peoples conceptions of themselves out of whack but people have become lazy. Americans have become accustomed to life getting easier and easier through technology and it has corroded our minds into wanting to do everything easy. Unfortunately weight loss through diet and exercise is not easy, it takes motivation and will power which most people don’t want to deal with. That is why they think surgery is the easy option because they want the quickest, fastest solution without doing any hard work. And unfortunately technology has given it to them.
    Another thing is that most people don’t know their BMI or what the BMI is or means and how it determines their obesity. Therefore they lack the knowledge about understanding their own weight. Additionally no one wants to be known as obese or morbidly obese because yes it does come with a bad connotation. However, you also have to consider the person. Some people if they admit to themselves that they are obese it will cause feelings of self hatred,and self loathing that could be severely detrimental to the mental status.
    I’m not saying that obesity is ok. However, in America we haven’t made enough of an effort to stop it either. Our society has been ingrained with Mcdonalds, Coke, Pepsi, and television. Unless we make lifestyle changes we can’t get away from the obesity factor.

  10. Terry

    18% body fat is in the Healthy range for women and likely your BMI is as well.