Weight And See: Americans Unaware Of Weight Gain, Loss
August 2, 2012

Weight And See: Many Americans Have Trouble Gauging Their Weight

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Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

These are many factors that can affect weight gain or weight loss and the fluctuation of weight can be difficult to track. Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics (IHME) at the University of Washington recently discovered that a large percentage of people in the U.S. aren´t aware if they are gaining or losing weight.

According to the IHME, obesity has increased between 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. However, in a public health survey conducted on weight changes from year-to-year, people stated that they had lost weight. The researchers determined that men weren´t as accurate in estimating weight changes as women, and older adults weren´t as perceptive as younger people. The results of the study are featured in an article in the August edition of Preventive Medicine.

“If people aren´t in touch with their weight and changes in their weight over time, they might not be motivated to lose weight,” explained Dr. Catherine Wetmore, the lead author on the paper, in a prepared statement. “Misreporting of weight gains and losses also has policy implications. If we had relied on the reported data about weight change between 2008 and 2009, we would have undercounted approximately 4.4 million obese adults in the US.”

Due to the rise in obesity, there have been a few public health campaigns that have encouraged people to lose weight and decrease risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic disorders. Researchers wanted to better understand if patients were taking action. As such, they produced a project that would look at self-reported changes in body weight from 2008 to 2009.

Wetmore, a former Post-Graduate fellow at IHME and currently a biostatician at Children´s National Medical Center, teamed up with IMHE Professor Dr. Ali Mokdad in the study. They included data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which analyzes risk factors for morbidity and mortality nationwide by surveying adults in the U.S. Over 775,000 participants took the survey and answered questions regarding their weight, such as their weight the day of the interview and their weight a year before the interview.

Based on the findings, the investigators discovered that adults in the U.S. gained weight over the study period. However, the 2009 study participants reported that they had lost weight the year before. Going off of the self-reported weights, obesity should have decreased between 2008 and 2009. The opposite occurred, with obesity increasing from 26 percent to 26.5 percent. The average weight also increased one pound per person during the study period.

“We all know on some level that people can be dishonest about their weight,” noted Mokdad in the statement. “But now we know that they can be misreporting annual changes in their weight, to the extent of more than two pounds per year among adults over the age of 50, or more than four pounds per year among those with diabetes. On average, American adults were off by about a pound, which, over time, can really add up and have a significant health impact.”

According to the results of the study, not everyone reported losing weight. Unintentional weight gain was more common among men and women who were under 40, current and former smokers, those considered physically inactivity, those who didn´t have health insurance, among other particular groups. The researchers conclude that the project is helpful in allowing patients to see the factors that are at play with weight gain.

“It´s very popular right now to talk about the underlying environmental causes of obesity, whether it´s too much fast food or not enough parks,” Wetmore suggested in the statement. “While we know that the environment definitely plays a role, these results show that we need to do a better job helping people to be aware of what´s going on with their own bodies.”