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Survey respondents: Obesity an urgent problem


The American public views obesity as a serious health problem and but may be unaware of ways in which it is linked to certain other health issues.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a survey of more than 1,000 adults to measure the general public’s opinions about obesity and related health issues in the United States.

Among health issues facing the country, being overweight and obese was cited more often (75%) than any other condition except cancer (81%). Diabetes and heart disease — two conditions related to obesity — tied for third (70%).

Most respondents were aware of a link between obesity and heart disease or myocardial infarction (78%) and diabetes (70%). However, only small minorities thought there are links between obesity and hypertension (21%), arthritis or joint problems (14%), high cholesterol (12%), depression and mental health issues (11%), stroke (10%), death (8%) and cancer (7%).

More than eight out of 10 people (82%) cited too much TV and computer time as the most important reason for high rates of obesity, with easy access to cheap fast food and lack of desire or knowledge about how to control one’s weight also commonly mentioned.

There is strong support for government policies that would add more physical activity time in schools (strongly or somewhat favored by 84% of respondents), provide information about healthy choices (83%) and provide incentives to the food industry to produce healthier options (73%).

There is less support for policies that would constrain consumer choices such as limits on the amount or type of food that can be purchased (74% opposed) or taxes on unhealthy foods or drinks (59% opposed).

Role of healthcare professionals

Regarding who is responsible for solving the country’s obesity problems, 88% of respondents cited individuals and 87% cited parents and other family members. The next highest-ranking group was doctors and other healthcare professionals, at 57%, followed by the food industry (53%), schools (50%), health insurance companies (33%), the federal government (23%), state and local governments (23%) and employers (14%).

While 63% of obese respondents reported having been told by a doctor or healthcare professional that they are overweight or obese, only 29% of overweight respondents reported having been conveyed such information. Even among overweight individuals who had seen a physician in the last six months, only 34% were told they were overweight.

A little more than half of respondents (53%) said their healthcare provider ever has given them advice about strategies to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight. A slim majority (52%) are receiving information about the health risks of being or becoming overweight or obese from their healthcare providers. Obese individuals are far more likely to receive this information than overweight individuals and individuals of a healthy weight.

A PDF summary of the study findings is available at


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