Lifestyle

Did I gain weight? | Gustafson

Many Americans find it hard to judge whether they are successfully managing their weight or not.

Despite increasing awareness of the obesity crisis in this country and throughout the world, most people don't see themselves as being affected by weight issues.

What's more, misperceptions – some call it denial – about weight changes are widespread, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

"If people aren't in touch with their weight and changes in their weight over time, they might not be motivated to lose weight," says Dr. Catherine Wetmore, a former Fellow at IHME and now a biostatistician at Children's National Medical Center, who is the lead author of the study report.

For the study, Dr. Wetmore and her colleagues compared self-reported changes in body weight between 2008 and 2009 by using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an annual survey that was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track health and lifestyle indicators in American adults. The survey included data from almost 400,000 participants in both years.

Based on their self-reporting, most participants actually gained weight between the 2008 and 2009 surveys but were not aware of it or even thought they had slimmed down a bit, although they hadn't.

There may be many reasons why people misjudge their weight. It's not always the case that they deliberately lie or live in denial.

"It may be related to optimism or vanity or a real lack of awareness," Wetmore says.

According to her findings, women seem more in tune with their body weight than men, and younger adults also do a better job than older ones.

Still, she calls the study results "surprising and alarming." Self-awareness of one's body weight is an important factor in the fight against the obesity epidemic, she said in an interview with WebMD.

Misperceptions and denial are also common among those who are already overweight or obese. This is particularly unfortunate because other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure often occur in connection with weight gain and can remain undiagnosed and untreated until it's too late.

Accepting unhealthy living

For some people accepting their unhealthy weight and not doing anything about is an option they think they can live with. Also, as a society we are increasingly becoming accustomed to obesity and are beginning to see it as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of modern life.

According to another recently published study, the number of severely or morbidly obese people (with a BMI of over 40) in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 70 percent over the last decade, making it the fastest growing segment of Americans with weight problems.

As a result, there are many more folks who suffer from weight-related disabilities to the point where they cannot live productive lives anymore. "People may basically be forced into retirement because they can't work," says Dr. Roland Sturm, an economist at the RAND Corporation and leader of the study.

Experts estimate that treatment of obesity and related illnesses add annually close to $200 billion to health care costs in the U.S. It is self-evident that these trends are not sustainable.

Obviously, there are no simple solutions and well-meaning measures like curbing soda consumption through taxes and limiting serving sizes, or posting calorie counts in restaurants can only scratch the surface, if that. But something needs to happen and soon.

What comes to mind is a song by the late Michael Jackson: "I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways."

Timi Gustafson RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun," which is available on her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.", and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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