We’re Underestimating Our Obesity

Have you ever heard the expression, what gets measured, matters? Or maybe some version of this expression?

In business for example you need to know your numbers. Sometimes these ‘numbers’ are called key performance indicators or KPIs. Knowing your KPIs can quickly help you see the health of the business over time.

Even if it’s not in business there is value in knowing your financials. When Alexandra and I were first dating I remember watching a reality show at her place called, Til Debt Do Us Part. And the premise was a financial expert, Gail Vax-Oxlade, would show up and help couples in financial trouble.

One of the first parts would involve Ms. Vax-Oxlade showing the couple on the show where the money was going. For example, a certain amount each month would be going to entertainment, credit card debt and bank fees as well as other non-essential indulgences.

The couples would always look wide-eyed as the evidenced was presented in front of them. And at one point Ms. Vax-Oxlade would tell them how bad their financial situation would be in 10 or 15 years if they didn’t change their ways. Sometimes this could be the couple owing over a million dollars and not owing their own home. How would you ever pay that off?

Presenting the cold hard financial facts to the couple always worked to get their attention. And the rest of the episode was spent changing their ways. There was a financial bonus or reward, maybe a trip, for the couple that completed all the tasks set out by Ms. Vax-Oxlade.

Now imagine if Ms. Vax-Oxlade didn’t present the situation as dire as it really was. What would happen if the couple was told they were doing fine and there was no need to change their ways. Well they’d be screwed financially and probably upset with Ms. Vax-Oxlade.

But this is what is happening when it comes to our health. We are being told the problem isn’t as bad as you hear. And there’s no reason to make a change. We’ve had enough of the PC crap about self love and the threat of shaming to have put the reigns on health professionals from telling people the truth.

And a long as we believe there’s not a problem we’re not likely to do anything about.

A recent study (1) in the journal Obesity looked at this situation.

The study was based in the UK and involved over 20,000 subjects from 1997 until 2015. All of the subjects in the study had a BMI equal or greater than 25 which is the threshold for overweight.The authors looked at the subjects perception of their weight and the likelihood to make a weight loss attempt.

What they found is that over time (from 1997 to 2015) there was an increase in the misperception of the subject’s weight. The percentage of men mis-estimating their weight went from 37% to 40% and for women this increased from 17% to 19%.

While the increase of those misperceiving their weight may not seem large i.e going up 2-3%, what it concerning is that these individuals are 85% less likely to try to lose weight.

In other words, ‘if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’.

Well it is ‘broke’ and unfortunately it is broken for more people. And almost all (i.e. 85%) of those that are underestimating their weight, their levels of overweight or obesity, are not doing anything about it.

And if you’re a male reading this you should pay extra attention.

Men don't recognize the problem and therefore aren't likely to do anything about it.

Men don’t recognize the problem and therefore aren’t likely to do anything about it.

Males were more than twice as likely than women to underestimate their weight. Men were always much less likely to make an effort to lose some weight and improve their health.

Lastly, obese individuals were much more likely (about 2/3 of them) to make a weight loss effort compared to only about half of overweight individuals. In other words, once the situation gets bad enough we are more likely to change our ways for a leaner, healthier lifestyle.


  1. Muttarak R. 2018. Normalization of Plus Size and the Danger of Unseen Overweight and Obesity in England. Obesity. 26 (7): 1125-29.




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