Americans’ Views on Obesity Changing

Americans' Views on Obesity Changing
Americans’ Views on Obesity Changing
More Americans are now viewing obesity as a community problem as opposed to a personal problem resulting from bad choices.

Both the American public and health care professionals (HCPs) have changed their perception of obesity during the past year, with more people viewing obesity as a community problem as opposed to a personal one resulting from bad choices, according to new research presented at Obesity Week 2014.

Study researcher Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, of ConscienHealth in Pittsburgh, said weight bias and stigma continue to complicate clinical outcomes. He and his colleagues wanted to measure any shifts that might affect or result from public policy changes.

To do so, they conducted an online survey of a representative sample of 54,111 U.S. adults and 5,024 HCPs. All participants were asked whether they viewed obesity primarily as a personal problem related to bad choices, a community problem of bad food and inactivity, or a medical problem.

The researchers collected responses at five different time periods between February 2013 and May 2014. The HCP sample included registered nurses, physicians, dietitians and nutritionists, and health care policy/management professionals.

The study also looked at how demographic variables, such as age, gender, income, region and urban density, were associated with the changing views of the public and HCPs.

“This study was aimed at measuring how people view obesity and I think we are making progress,” said Kyle. 

The researchers found that the number of Americans who see obesity as a community problem increased as much as 13% (25% vs. 38%) and the number of HCPs who see obesity as a community problem increased 18% (26% vs. 44%). 

However, the researchers were surprised to find that the HCPs who view obesity primarily as a medical problem actually decreased between 2013 and 2014 (31% vs. 19%).  

Obesity Week 2014 InfographicCourtesy of The Obesity Society

Demographic data showed that in 2014, younger and higher-income respondents were more likely to view obesity as a community problem, while older respondents more likely view it as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents were more likely to view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices.

All results were significant (P<.0001).

The American Medical Association (AMA) 2013 decision to classify obesity as a chronic disease appeared to have little impact, though, the researchers said.

In a press release, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, who is the Deputy Director at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and a spokeswoman for The Obesity Society, said obesity is a very complex, chronic medical condition and successful treatment often requires the support and care of physicians. 

Nevertheless, she said current trends are encouraging because they suggest a shift away from simplistic, biased views that focus on personal blame. Puhl said the more that people recognize shared risks for obesity, the more likely they are to support evidence-based approaches to reducing obesity’s impact.

Puhl also said that addressing weight bias is essential to effectively prevent and treat obesity.

Kyle agreed with Puhl and said there is a very good trend underway in terms of how obesity is viewed and the fact that more people see it as a community problem.

“There is a problem with obesity that involves blame or stigma and people will tend to shy away from medical care because of being shamed or stigmas,” Kyle said in an interview with Endocrinology Advisor

He said one of the major problems is a lack of good medical regimens. He noted there are currently only four approved medications for the treatment obesity.  

“We now have four drugs, and that is a significant improvement, but we obviously need much more. We have 40 or 50 medications for diabetes and hundreds for hypertension,” Kyle said.


  1. Kyle T, Thomas D and Tsai A. Abstract T-2464-P. Presented at: Obesity Week 2014; Nov. 2-7, 2014; Boston.