Majority of people—including health professionals—struggle to identify obesity

The majority of people - including healthcare professionals - are unable to visually identify whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight or obese according to research by psychologists at the University of Liverpool.

Researchers from the University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society asked participants to look at photographs of male models and categorise whether they were a healthy weight, overweight or obese according to World Health Organisation (WHO) Body Mass Index (BMI) guidelines.

They found that the majority of participants were unable to correctly identify whether they were a healthy weight, overweight or . Participants instead underestimated weight, often believing that overweight men were a healthy weight.

In a related study of , the researchers also found that GPs (General Practitioners) and trainee GPs were unable to visually identify if a person was overweight or obese.

The researchers also examined whether increased exposure to overweight and affected a person's ability to estimate the weight of a person. Their findings suggested that exposure to heavier body weights may influence what people see as a normal and and causes people to underestimate a person's weight.

Psychologist, Dr Eric Robinson, who conducted the research, said: "We wanted to find out if people can identify a healthy, overweight or obese person just by looking at them.

"Primarily we found that people were often very inaccurate and this included trainee doctors and qualified doctors too. Moreover, we found that participants systematically underestimated when a person was overweight or obese."

"Our study of GPs also found a tendency to underestimate weight which has important implications as it means that overweight and could end up not being offered weight management support or advice.

Recent studies have found that parents underestimate their overweight or obese child's weight and this could also act as a barrier to intervention.

Dr Robinson added: "Over the last 30 years we have seen changes to population body weight, so examining how this has affected how we view our own and other people's body sizes is an interesting area of research."

The UK has the highest level of obesity in Western Europe. Obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last 30 years and, on current estimates, more than half the population could be obese by 2050. More than half of the adult population in the European Union are or obese.


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More information: The research was presented at the UK Congress of Obesity and the study of GPs is published in the British Journal of General Practice.
Citation: Majority of people—including health professionals—struggle to identify obesity (2014, November 11) retrieved 22 September 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-11-majority-peopleincluding-health-professionalsstruggle-obesity.html
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Nov 11, 2014
Garbage in; garbage out. What can possibly be learned from asking laymen to judge the obesity of strangers, where obesity is defined by the BMI? Why not ask them to judge obesity by horoscopes? The BMI is the least accurate metric in medicine and should never be used to make any decisions of any sort, whether it is estimating obesity from a picture of a stranger or selecting candidates for bariatric surgery, or anything in between.

Three online metrics are superior to the BMI. The waist to hips ratio and the waist to height ratio are helpful, and weightzonefactor.com gives a scientific analysis of your weight and fitness based on body stats, health history, and exercise patterns. Three excellent tools.

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