In U.S., Gender Gap in Personal Weight Worries Narrows
Well-Being

In U.S., Gender Gap in Personal Weight Worries Narrows

by Alyssa Brown

More than two in five Americans say they are overweight

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Although women (55%) are still significantly more likely than men (41%) to worry at least some of the time about their weight, this gender gap has narrowed, as men are much more likely now than in 1990 to worry about their weight. At that time, 21% of men and 46% of women worried at least some of the time about their weight.

How often do you worry about your weight? Trend by gender

Overall, 48% of Americans worry about their weight at least some of the time, which is identical to the percentage who worried in 2010, but significantly higher than in 1990 (34%).

How often do you worry about your weight? Overall trend

Men (40%) and women (42%) are about equally likely to describe themselves as "very" or "somewhat" overweight, which is on par with the percentages of Americans saying they were at least somewhat overweight over the past decade. The majority of Americans say their weight is "about right," as they have in most of the past 20 years.

Trend: How would you describe your own personal weight situation right now?

Because men and women in the U.S. are about equally as likely to say they are above a normal weight, the higher number of women who worry about their weight is likely the result of societal norms or social pressures about weight and body image that are different for men than for women, or perhaps affect men and women differently.

The more than two in five Americans who personally describe themselves as being overweight in Gallup's July 9-12 Consumption Habits poll is well below the percentage who are overweight according to body mass index (BMI) calculations. In separate Daily polling, Gallup and Healthways track Americans' self-reported height and weight, and compute BMI scores as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. These BMI calculations found that 62.2% of Americans were either overweight or obese, based on government definitions (36.0% were overweight and 26.2% were obese), in the second quarter of this year.

The inconsistency between the percentage who say they are overweight and the percentage who are overweight according to BMI calculations may be due to Americans' own reluctance to describe themselves using such a term. Also, some Americans may be only a few pounds overweight and thus may consider their weight "about right," even if their BMI score would classify them as overweight.

Overweight Americans Worry More

Americans who say they are overweight are significantly more likely to worry about their weight than those who are underweight or say their weight is about right. Seventy-two percent of Americans who say they are overweight worry at least some of the time about their weight, compared with 32% of people who say their weight is about right and 16% of people who are underweight.

How often do you worry about your weight? By self-reported current weight situation, July 2012

Still, nearly one-third of Americans who say their weight is "about right" worry about their weight some of the time. This suggests they are either actively working to maintain their "about right" status or, alternatively, that they may feel more comfortable in saying their weight is "about right" than in labeling themselves as "overweight."

Bottom Line

More Americans, especially men, worry about their weight now than did so 22 years ago, though the overall percentage of adults who worry has leveled off in recent years. This suggests that weight has become part of the larger overall social consciousness, among men and women.

The increase in weight worry overall coincides with more Americans saying obesity is a serious problem to society. Americans may be coming to terms with America's collective weight problem and its impact on society, including healthcare costs.

These are important implications because societal pressure can sometimes change behavior. As might be expected, those who do consider themselves to be overweight are much more likely to worry about their weight than those who say their weight is about right. Still, it is more common in America today than it was 22 years ago for all Americans to worry about their own personal weight.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 520 men, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 494 women, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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