The ASMBS and NORC Survey on Obesity in America

A new study from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and NORC at the University of Chicago finds that Americans view obesity as tied with cancer as the most serious health problem facing the country. The vast majority identify obesity as a serious problem, and they rate it as more serious a threat than heart disease and diabetes. However, in spite of their understanding of the seriousness of obesity, few seem to know how to achieve long-term weight loss, overestimating the effectiveness of some treatments and underestimating the effectiveness and safety of others.

The study reveals that the public’s understanding of the severity of obesity and its associated health risks has evolved in recent years, but stereotypes and misperceptions still affect people's attitudes and actions. A lack of individual willpower is cited as the biggest barrier to weight loss, and a majority of people with obesity attempt to lose weight without the help of medical professionals. This is the case despite widespread public knowledge of the high risk of premature death and other serious health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, which are associated with obesity.

The nationally representative survey of 1,509 adults included oversamples of African Americans and Hispanics. It was funded by ASMBS and used AmeriSpeak®, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted between August 11 and September 21, 2016, online and using landlines and cell phones.

Two separate reports detail the findings from the 2016 survey from ASMBS and NORC at the University of Chicago.

The first report, entitled Obesity Rises to Top Health Concern for Americans, but Misperceptions Persist, shows that nearly all American adults agree that obesity increases a person’s risk of dying early even if they don’t have any other health conditions. However, few consider obesity in and of itself as a disease. Additionally, the results reveal that a majority of Americans with obesity according to their BMI don’t recognize their clinical condition and consider themselves to be overweight, but not obese.

The second report, entitled New Insights into Americans’ Perceptions and Misperceptions of Obesity Treatments, and the Struggles Many Face, finds Americans overestimate the effectiveness of diet and exercise alone for long-term weight loss, and tend to underestimate both the safety and effectiveness of medical and surgical treatments. Yet more than 6 in 10 believe that health insurance should cover obesity treatments such as losing weight with the help of a doctor through diet or exercise, weight loss surgery, one-on-one dietary counseling, prescription medications, and formal exercise programs.