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Many Obese People Don’t See Themselves That Way

A majority of obese people in Britain do not describe themselves as obese, according to a new study.

In fact, the Cancer Research UK study found that many obese people do not even describe themselves as “very overweight.”

According to the study of 2,000 adults, only 11 percent of obese women acknowledged they were obese, with most describing themselves as “very overweight” or “just right.” Among men, only seven percent described themselves as obese, with another 16 percent calling themselves “very overweight.”

Researchers suggest that as bigger sizes become the new normal, people are less likely to acknowledge the health problems that are associated with their weight.

“It’s a real worry that people don’t recognize that their weight places them in the obese category, because it means they aren’t aware they are at increased risk of a number of health problems, including cancer,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Jane Wardle, the study’s co-author and director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London.

She noted that the term obese is often considered derogatory, which may be why so many people reject it.

“Mass media often illustrate obesity in a way that people find offensive, with pictures of bulging beer bellies and huge behinds, so people shy away from these images,” she said. “But we also asked people whether they felt they were ‘very overweight’ and the majority of those who were obese did not accept this term either.

“This is a real problem, as it means they are unlikely to identify with health messages on the subject of weight. We need to establish better ways for health professionals to address this sensitive subject and communicate with people whose health would benefit from positive lifestyle changes.”

The researcher noted that about 18,000 cases of cancer in the UK each year are linked to being overweight or obese. Excess weight is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer in post-menopausal women, as well as pancreas, kidney, and gall bladder cancers.

“This study provides an interesting insight into how people who are overweight view themselves,” said Julie Sharp, M.D., Cancer Research UK’s head of health information.

“Carrying those extra pounds can have serious health implications. Fat cells are active, releasing hormones and other chemicals that affect many parts of the body, and increase the risk of cancer.

“Maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important ways of reducing the risk of cancer, for both men and women. It’s so important that health messaging and awareness campaigns are as effective as possible in supporting people of all shapes and sizes to make healthy choices.”

The study was published in BMJ Open.

Source: Cancer Research UK

Many Obese People Don’t See Themselves That Way

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Many Obese People Don’t See Themselves That Way. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 16 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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