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Here's another explanation for the obesity epidemic: Body size misperception

October 16, 2010
  • No wonder so many of us are overweight or obese -- we can't tell, researchers say.
No wonder so many of us are overweight or obese -- we can't tell, researchers… (STR/AFP/Getty Images )

Researchers have identified another cause of the American obesity epidemic – too many of us don’t realize that we’re overweight.

In fact, the doctors and other experts who published this hypothesis this week in Archives of Internal Medicine have a clinical name for this problem: body size misperception. And about 8% of adults in Dallas have it, according to their study.

The primary symptom is that when shown pictures of nine figures – ranging from very thin to morbidly obese – these adults selected an “ideal body size” that was the same or bigger than the image they thought best reflected their own body size. The result is that they failed “to recognize a need for weight loss,” according to the study.

Body size misperception was more common among African Americans and Latinos than among whites. Income and socioeconomic status were not linked to the diagnosis, the researchers reported.

Interestingly, those who had it were more likely to say they felt healthy than were their peers of the same age. But that was probably just another sign that they were living in a dream world. The researchers said that people with body size misperception were “less aware” that they were at risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, two-thirds of sufferers who were already obese guessed that their lifetime risk of becoming obese was low. Perhaps as a result, they exercised less and went to the doctor less often.

“Body size misperception is surprisingly prevalent among obese adults from the general population, particularly among ethnic minorities,” the researchers concluded.

-- Karen Kaplan/Los Angeles Times

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