Americans Still Worry About Weight

Americans still worry about our weight, a Harvard study shows.

That may seem like a no-brainer. So why are Harvard's best and brightest bringing us this news?

The Harvard School of Public Health has taken the lead in warning us of the dire consequences of overweight and obesity. That approach has been criticized by the "fat but fit" school of thought. And a recent study suggested that slightly overweight people may live longer than skinny people.

Harvard convened a well-publicized symposium to refute these claims. Did it work?

It may not even have been necessary, the Harvard poll suggests. Only 36 percent of Americans even heard the news that overweight might not be so bad. And 75 percent of us say obesity is an extremely serious or very serious public health problem. That's down only slightly from the 80 percent of Americans who said this in a 2004 ABC/Time poll.

Read WebMD's "Are You Overweight? Calculate Your BMI"

Overweight? Me?

The Harvard telephone survey contacted a nationally representative sample of 2,033 U.S. adults between June 23 and June 28. Its margin of error is 2.2 percent.

Some of the findings:

— 41 percent of the surveyed Americans say they are at least somewhat overweight. But according to their own stated height and weight, 51 percent are actually overweight.

— 32 percent of Americans are seriously trying to lose weight — up from 27 percent a year ago.

— 32 percent of us are watching our calories, 47 percent of us are watching how many fats we eat, and 36 percent of us are watching our carbs. All those numbers are about the same as a year ago.

— 73 percent of us say a moderately overweight person is more likely than an average-weight person to develop a chronic disease. But only 51 percent of us think moderately overweight people are more likely to die a premature death.

— While 15 percent of us say scientists overrate the health risks of obesity, 22 percent of us say they underrate the risks.

"Americans are pretty certain that being moderately overweight leads to serious health problems," researcher Robert J. Blendon, ScD, says in a news release. "But they are not convinced that it leads to premature death."

By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Blendon, R.J. Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Poll, June 23-28, 2005. News release, Harvard School of Public Health.