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Survey reveals widespread patient ignorance about obesity

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Millions of people in the UK could be failing to recognise that they are obese − putting themselves at risk of early death, a report suggests.

There is poor understanding of obesity-related health risks and many do not even recognise that they are obese, said the report from Nuffield Health.

A survey conducted by the private provider found that two-fifths of obese people had no concerns about serious illness due to their weight.

“We need to prioritise the health of our patients over the risk of hurt feelings”

Davina Deniszczyc

Many people simply believe they are overweight instead of clinically obese, a Nuffield spokeswoman said. It questioned 3,100 people about their health and well-being − including about perceptions of their weight.

Half believed themselves to be overweight and 6% thought they were obese. But body mass index (BMI) tests revealed that 17% were clinically obese − a BMI score over 30 − and 3% measured as “morbidly obese”, with a BMI of 40 or over.

The report said there was a “clear misconception” over what weight is considered to be obese.

New warning about obesity ignorance

If the figures are extrapolated, this means around six million people in the UK could be at risk by not recognising that they are obese and the associated health risks, a charity spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, 44% of those who are obese said they have no concerns about serious illness due to their weight, and many did not recognise the links between obesity and health problems.

Eight in 10 of those polled did not know about the link between obesity and some cancers such as breast and bowel cancer.

Around two-thirds were unaware about obese people’s increase risk of liver disease or osteoarthritis. And 46% were not aware about the link between obesity and stroke.

Dr Davina Deniszczyc, medical director for well-being at Nuffield Health, said: “We are seeing a vast number of people unwittingly straying into dangerous medical territory and perhaps not realising that the obesity awareness campaigns are directed at them.

Nuffield Health

Davina Deniszczyc

“As healthcare professionals, we need to prioritise the health of our patients over the risk of hurt feelings caused by a frank and open conversation about their weight,” she said. “It’s vital that people have the information they need in order to make informed decisions about their health.”

She added: “While we need to increase access to clinically recognised weight management programmes and treatments, some people may simply benefit from structured information and goal-setting, an exercise regime or through tackling the root cause of their obesity with the help of a support group or a weight management specialist.”

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