Religion and Social Trends

Many Americans Deluding Themselves About Weight

More than half are overweight, including 20% obese

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With the Thanksgiving holiday and food aplenty, 'tis the season to watch one's waistline. Indeed, there is much to watch. A Gallup survey conducted earlier this month calculated the body mass index (BMI) of Americans based on their reported height and weight, and found more than half of all Americans overweight -- though just 4 in 10 think of themselves that way. Moreover, if all Americans reached what they identify as their "ideal" weight, 37% would still be carrying too many pounds according to the BMI, including 4% who would be classified as obese.

The poll, conducted Nov. 3-5, 2003, shows that 55% of all Americans report height and weight figures that classify them as either overweight (35%) or obese (20%). Last year, the figures were almost the same.

Percentage of Americans in
Each Weight Category

These estimates are based on the method used by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to measure how healthy a person's weight is. A person's reported weight and height are translated into a body mass index (BMI), essentially a ratio between the two measures. BMI scores of less than 20 are considered underweight; scores of 20 to less than 25 are considered normal; and any score of 25 or greater suggests the person is overweight. A score of 30 or higher suggests the person is obese, which potentially poses severe health problems.

The estimates of overweight suggested by the BMI are far higher than self-reports of being overweight. Just 41% of Americans overall say they are either "somewhat" (37%) or "very" (4%) overweight.

How would you describe your own personal weight situation right now -- very overweight, somewhat overweight, about right, somewhat underweight, or very underweight?

 


Very
over-
weight

Some-
what
over-
weight

 

About
right

Some-
what
under-
weight


Very
under-
weight

 

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Nov 3-5

4

37

53

5

1

*

2003 Jul 7-9

4

39

50

5

1

1

2002 Nov 11-14

6

36

51

5

1

1

2002 Jul 9-11

6

34

55

5

*

*

2001 Nov 8-11

6

38

51

4

*

1

2001 Jul 19-22

5

41

49

5

*

*

1999 Jul 22-25

4

35

53

6

1

1

1990 Oct 18-21

7

41

46

5

1

*



These self-reports have fluctuated very little over the past decade, though Americans are somewhat less likely to say they are overweight today than they were in 1990.

More Overweight Men Than Women; but Fewer Men Trying to Lose Weight

Men are more likely than women to be classified as overweight and obese according to the BMI -- 68% of men compared with 43% of women.

Percentage of Men and Women in
Each Weight Category
Nov. 3-5, 2003

Only half of men (51%), compared with two-thirds of women (68%), say they want to lose weight. These results are typical of those Gallup has measured since 1990 -- with women more likely than men to say they want to lose weight, by margins of 14 percentage points to 19 percentage points.

Percentage of Men and Women
Who Want to Lose Weight and
Percentage Trying to Lose Weight

Though large numbers of both groups say they want to lose weight, relatively few are trying to do so. Currently, 21% of men say they are seriously trying to lose weight, compared with 35% of women. Again, Gallup has found this pattern in all of its measures over the past decade.

Only About Half of Overweight Americans Trying to Lose

Most overweight people want to lose weight, but only about half are actually making the effort. Among people classified as obese by the BMI, 93% want to lose weight, but just 45% say they are seriously trying to do so.

Percentage of Americans in Each Weight Category
Who Want to or Are Trying to Lose Weight
Nov. 3-5, 2003

Similarly, among people classified as overweight but not obese, only 36% are trying to lose weight, while 69% say they want to. The percentage is even lower for people in the healthy weight category -- while 38% want to lose, just 13% are making the effort. Perhaps the fact that they are in the acceptable BMI range (and recognize that they are not really overweight) gives them less motivation to lose. Only a small percentage of people in the underweight category either desire or are trying to lose.

Ideal Weight

Because many people want to lose weight, it's not surprising that about two-thirds of Americans cite an ideal weight that is below their actual weight -- 63% of men, and 71% of women. On average, the ideal weight for men is 14 pounds lower than their reported actual weight, and for women, almost 19 pounds lower.

But even if everyone reached their ideal weight, the BMI indicates that 37% of Americans would still be classified as overweight, including 4% in the obese category.

  • Of the people who are overweight now (but not obese), as measured by the BMI, 54% would still be overweight if they reached their self-reported "ideal" weight.
  • Three-quarters of currently obese people, if they reached their ideal body weight, would still be overweight -- 60% would be reclassified down to the overweight category, but 15% would remain in the obese group.
  • Among those in the healthy weight category who reached their perceived ideal weight, 6% would then be overweight, and 7% would be underweight.
  • Among the small number of underweight Americans who reached what they perceived to be their ideal weight, 35% would move from underweight to healthy weight, and another 2% would be overweight. The rest, 63%, would remain underweight.

Caution About the BMI

The National Institutes of Health cautions against too much reliance on the BMI as an individual assessment of one's health. Here are some caveats from NIH:

  • "BMI does not directly measure percent of body fat, but it is a more accurate indicator of overweight and obesity than relying on weight alone.
  • "One problem with using BMI as a measurement tool is that very muscular people may fall into the 'overweight' category when they are actually healthy and fit.
  • "Another problem with using BMI is that people who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly, may be in the 'healthy weight' category -- according to their BMI -- when they actually have reduced nutritional reserves.
  • "BMI, therefore, is useful as a general guideline to monitor trends in the population, but by itself is not diagnostic of an individual patient's health status."

Gallup has used the BMI in this analysis as a general guideline to monitor the trends in the population.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 3-5, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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.

23. How would you describe your own personal weight situation right now -- very overweight, somewhat overweight, about right, somewhat underweight, or very underweight?

 


Very
over-
weight

Some-
what
over-
weight

 

About
right

Some-
what
under-
weight


Very
under-
weight

 

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Nov 3-5

4

37

53

5

1

*

2003 Jul 7-9

4

39

50

5

1

1

2002 Nov 11-14

6

36

51

5

1

1

2002 Jul 9-11

6

34

55

5

*

*

2001 Nov 8-11

6

38

51

4

*

1

2001 Jul 19-22

5

41

49

5

*

*

1999 Jul 22-25

4

35

53

6

1

1

1990 Oct 18-21

7

41

46

5

1

*



24. What is your approximate current weight?

 

124 lbs.
or less

125-149
lbs.

150-174
lbs.

175-199
lbs.

200 lbs.
and
over

No
opinion

Avg.
weight

%

%

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

8

21

21

22

24

4

174

2002 Nov 11-14

9

22

22

18

25

4

173

2001 Nov 8-11

8

20

24

22

22

4

171

2001 Jul 19-22

8

19

26

20

22

5

173

1999 Jul 22-25

11

19

25

20

20

4

170

1990 Oct 18-21

12

27

27

16

15

3

161

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

1

7

19

34

38

1

195

2002 Nov 11-14

1

8

25

24

41

1

193

2001 Nov 8-11

1

8

22

33

35

1

189

2001 Jul 19-22

3

8

26

28

34

1

188

1999 Jul 22-25

1

6

27

31

33

2

190

1990 Oct 18-21

2

11

35

27

25

*

180

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

15

34

23

10

11

6

153

2002 Nov 11-14

15

35

21

12

10

7

153

2001 Nov 8-11

15

31

26

11

11

6

153

2001 Jul 19-22

13

29

26

12

12

8

158

1999 Jul 22-25

20

32

24

9

8

7

150

1990 Oct 18-21

21

42

20

7

5

5

142



25. What is your approximate current height?


5'0"
or
less


5'1" -
5'3"


5'4" -
5'6"


5'7" -
5'8"


5'9"-
5'11"


6'0" -
6'3"

6'4"
or
taller


No
opinion


Avg.
height

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

4

13

26

15

23

15

3

2

5'7"

2001 Nov 8-11

3

15

27

16

20

15

3

1

5'8"

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

*

1

9

13

39

31

6

1

5'10"

2001 Nov 8-11

--

1

7

17

36

31

7

1

5'11"

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

7

24

41

18

7

1

--

3

5'4"

2001 Nov 8-11

5

28

44

16

6

*

*

1

5'5"

BODY MASS INDEX (Q.24-25)

< 20
(underweight)

20-25
(normal)

26-30
(overweight)

30+
(obese)


Missing

%

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

4

36

35

20

5

2001 Nov 8-11

5

36

36

18

5

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

3

28

45

23

1

2001 Nov 8-11

3

32

46

17

2

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

6

43

26

17

8

2001 Nov 8-11

6

39

28

19

8

NOTE: Body Mass Index is a ratio of one's weight to one's height. It is calculated as a person's weight (in kilograms) divided by their height (in meters) squared.

41. Would you like to [ROTATED: lose weight, stay at your present weight, or put on weight]?

 

Lose
weight

Put on
weight

Stay at
present

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

60

8

32

*

2002 Nov 11-14

58

8

34

*

2001 Jul 19-22

59

7

34

*

1999 Jul 22-25

52

9

39

*

1996 Feb 23-25

55

4

41

*

1990 Oct 18-21

52

7

40

1

1957 Aug 29-Sep 4

35

11

49

5

1955 Jun 24-29

37

13

48

2

1954 Jul 2-7

35

14

50

1

1953 Feb 1-5

37

13

49

1

1951

31

17

50

2

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

51

12

37

*

2002 Nov 11-14

49

11

40

*

2001 Jul 19-22

49

12

39

0

1999 Jul 22-25

44

13

43

*

1996 Feb 23-25

45

6

49

*

1990 Oct 18-21

42

10

47

1

1957 Aug 29-Sep 4

25

14

56

5

1955 Jun 24-29

24

16

58

2

1954 Jul 2-7

26

16

58

*

1953 Feb 1-5

10

20

68

2

1951

21

20

57

2

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

68

4

28

2002 Nov 11-14

66

4

30

*

2001 Jul 19-22

68

2

30

*

1999 Jul 22-25

58

5

37

*

1996 Feb 23-25

63

3

34

*

1990 Oct 18-21

61

4

34

1

1957 Aug 29-Sep 4

45

8

42

5

1955 Jun 24-29

49

10

38

3

1954 Jul 2-7

45

12

42

1

1953 Feb 1-5

43

11

45

1

1951

44

12

43

1



42. What do you think is the ideal body weight for you, personally?

 

124 lbs.
or less

125-149
lbs.

150-174
lbs.

175-199
lbs.

200 lbs.
and
over

No
opinion

Average weight

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

12

33

21

20

12

2

157

2002 Nov 11-14

15

28

24

18

11

4

157

2001 Jul 19-22

11

31

26

20

9

3

156

1999 Jul 22-25

13

31

23

19

12

3

157

1990 Oct 18-21

18

32

24

16

6

4

149

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

1

9

27

39

23

2

181

2002 Nov 11-14

1

8

31

34

24

2

181

2001 Jul 19-22

2

8

31

38

19

2

177

1999 Jul 22-25

*

8

28

37

23

3

180

1990 Oct 18-21

1

10

41

33

12

3

171

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

22

55

16

3

1

3

135

2002 Nov 11-14

27

46

17

3

1

6

134

2001 Jul 19-22

20

51

22

3

*

4

137

1999 Jul 22-25

25

52

17

3

1

2

136

1990 Oct 18-21

32

51

10

2

*

5

129



COMBINED RESPONSES (Q.24/Q.42)

 

2003 Nov 3-5

National Adults

Men

Women

%

%

%

Under Ideal Weight

12

15

9

More than 20 lbs.

2

3

*

11-20 lbs.

3

5

1

1-10 lbs.

7

7

8

At ideal weight

16

19

12

Over Ideal Weight

67

63

71

1-10 lbs.

26

24

27

11-20 lbs.

15

16

14

21-50 lbs.

18

15

21

More than 50 lbs.

8

8

9

Undesignated

5

3

8

Mean

+16.3

+14.0

+18.5

Median

+10

+7

+10



Q.42 CONTINUED

HISTORIC TREND: DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACTUAL AND IDEAL WEIGHT

 

Mean

Median

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

+16.3

+10

2002 Nov 11-14

+15.5

+10

2001 Jul 19-22

+16.6

+10

1999 Jul 22-25

+11.8

+6

1990 Oct 18-21

+11.3

+5

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

+14.0

+7

2002 Nov 11-14

+12.4

+5

2001 Jul 19-22

+11.9

+5

1999 Jul 22-25

+9.8

+5

1990 Oct 18-21

+9.1

+5

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

+18.5

+10

2002 Nov 11-14

+18.6

+10

2001 Jul 19-22

+21.3

+10

1999 Jul 22-25

+13.6

+8

1990 Oct 18-21

+13.3

+8

Note: Positive numbers indicate over ideal weight, negative numbers indicate under ideal weight



At this time are you seriously trying to lose weight?

 

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

National Adults

2003 Nov 3-5

28

72

*

2002 Nov 11-14

24

75

1

2001 Jul 19-22

25

75

*

1999 Jul 22-25

20

80

*

1996 Feb 23-25

26

74

*

1990 Oct 18-21

18

82

*

1955

17

83

*

1953

25

75

*

1951

19

81

*

Men

2003 Nov 3-5

21

79

*

2002 Nov 11-14

19

80

1

2001 Jul 19-22

17

82

1

1999 Jul 22-25

16

84

*

1996 Feb 23-25

22

78

*

1990 Oct 18-21

11

88

1

Women

2003 Nov 3-5

35

65

*

2002 Nov 11-14

30

70

*

2001 Jul 19-22

32

68

0

1999 Jul 22-25

24

76

*

1996 Feb 23-25

30

70

*

1990 Oct 18-21

24

76

*



Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/9829/Many-Americans-Deluding-Themselves-About-Weight.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030