Study: Normalisation of ‘Plus-Size’ Risks Hidden Danger of Obesity

The normalisation of ‘plus-size’ body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight. (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
The normalisation of ‘plus-size’ body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The normalisation of “plus-size” body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight — undermining efforts to tackle England’s ever-growing obesity problem, according to an academic at the University of East Anglia. While attempts to reduce stigmatization of larger body sizes — for example with the launch of plus-size clothing ranges — help promote body positivity, the study highlights an unintentional negative consequence that may prevent recognition of the health risks of being overweight.

The study by Dr. Raya Muttarak, from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Austria, examined the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics associated with underestimation of weight status to reveal social inequalities in patterns of weight misperception.

Analysis of data from almost 23,460 people who are overweight or obese revealed that weight misperception has increased in England. Men and individuals with lower levels of education and income are more likely to underestimate their weight status and consequently less likely to try to lose weight.

Members of minority ethnic groups are also more likely to underestimate their weight than the white population, however they are more likely to try to lose weight. Overall, those underestimating their weight are 85% less likely to try to lose weight compared with people who accurately identified their weight status.

The results, published in the journal Obesity, show that the number of overweight individuals who are misperceiving their weight has increased over time, from 48.4 percent to 57.9 percent in men and 24.5 percent to 30.6 percent in women between 1997 and 2015. Similarly, among individuals classified as obese, the proportion of men misperceiving their weight in 2015 was almost double that of 1997 (12 percent vs. 6.6 percent).

The study comes amid growing global concern about rising obesity rates and follows a 2017 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that showed 63 percent of adults in the UK are overweight or obese. Dr. Muttarak, a senior lecturer in UEA’s School of International Development, says her findings have important implications for public health policies:

Dr. Muttarak added:

The study used data from the annual Health Survey for England, which contains a question on weight perception. Focusing on respondents with a BMI of 25 or over, about two-thirds were classified as being overweight and one-third as obese. In order to assess trends in self-perception of weight status, the analysis was based on pooled data from five years — 1997, 1998, 2002, 2014, 2015 — of the survey.

The proportion underestimating their weight status was higher among overweight individuals compared with those with obesity (40.8 percet vs. 8.4 percent). Correspondingly, only about half of overweight individuals were trying to lose weight compared with more than two-thirds of people with obesity.

 Provided by: University of East Anglia [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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