Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
For decades, headline after headline has made it inexplicably clear that America has a collective weight problem. The latest came just last month, when a study published in The Lancet found that 66% of adults in the US are overweight or obese. But, a new Gallup survey suggests that many of us haven't gotten the picture — or, at least, don't think it applies to us.
The survey, which involved a random sample of over 3,000 men and women across the country, asked questions about respondents' weight status and goals. The data showed that 55% of subjects self-reported as "not overweight and not trying to lose weight." Only 18% identified as "overweight but not trying to lose weight," while another 18% said they were "overweight and trying to lose weight." And, 8% of subjects identified as "not overweight but trying to lose weight." The survey also showed that respondents' desires to lose weight depended on their gender and their age: Women and older subjects were the most likely to say they were trying to drop some pounds.
Of course, the word "overweight" has a very specific (and problematic) definition. In this context, it means someone who has a BMI between 25 and 30. As many have noted, BMI is a pretty inappropriate measure of health — it's an extraordinarily arbitrary system that doesn't leave room for different body types and compositions. The use of the BMI-based definition of the word "overweight" in the study probably affected the results in a significant way: Many people who would technically qualify as "overweight" by this definitely likely wouldn't think of themselves that way.
Still, this methodology issue doesn't explain the huge discrepancy between reported perceptions and the hard data we've seen on obesity in this country. Not only do we need more research; we need to look beyond just BMI to find what's really wrong with America's health. There's got to be a documentary in here somewhere.