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Facing Up to the Real Health Risks of Obesity

A new survey shows that many people who are overweight in this country could use a reality check when it comes to facing facts about the health risks of obesity. Dr. James Rippe is a cardiologist and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, and he explains.

A new survey reveals that a large majority of overweight Americans underestimate the health risks of being overweight. In addition, many overweight Americans are not making any effort to reduce their weight at all.

The telephone survey was conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide. The survey screened 1,034 adults and identified 488 overweight people as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over.

Some surprising statistics were revealed:

  • 57% of overweight adults and 37% of obese adults say they have never had a discussion with their doctor about their weight.

  • 21% of overweight adults say they believe they don't need to lose weight.

  • 25% of overweight adults say they have never tried to lose weight.

  • 62% of overweight people and 44% of obese people say they do not believe their weight poses serious health risks.

  • 55% say that the reason their doctor doesn't bring up the subject of weight is because he or she doesn't believe it's a serious problem.

  • 43% of the overweight people said their main reason for not discussing their weight with a doctor was that they didn't believe it was a problem.

  • 12% said they wouldn't follow a doctor's recommendations because they don't believe it's a major concern. Other reasons cited included the belief that it's their own personal problem (29%) and that it can be handled on their own (49%).

More than half of those surveyed who say they do not talk to a doctor say they do talk to someone else about it--in particular, spouses, friends, and relatives. And about half had sought weight loss or dieting information from other sources. People say they are either more likely to or are equally likely to begin a conversation about weight loss with their doctor. Many overweight people are receptive to the idea of a phone-operated weight-loss counseling service.

Interview with Dr. James Rippe

There is a lot of evidence that excess weight, even a little, is a major contributor to heart disease and a significant risk for diabetes. It is a factor in 40 to 70% of hypertension cases and in half of all lipid problems.

The survey uncovers a "conspiracy of silence" in healthcare when it comes to weight gain. Patients don't ask, and doctors don't tell. Doctors are underestimating the health risk of obesity, perhaps because they don't understand that we have viable treatments, perhaps because the doctors themselves are overweight, too, or perhaps they don't want to offend their patients.

But the survey hones in on the main issue here--that people don't undrstand the consequences of being overweight or obese, and half of them don't think their doctor understands either. The reason is that people are not properly informed about the close association of even a small increase in weight and negative health results.

The best way to tell whether you're in the danger zone is to calculate your body mass index (BMI) using the BMI formula that takes into account weight and height. This chart is available on many Web sites, including CBSHealthWatch.

The survey also suggests that people are probably losing weight for cosmetic reasons rather than because they understand the health reasons. Sixty-two percent of overweight people don't think their health is at risk, but 75% have tried to lose weight. And they're getting advice from the wrong people, such as spouses and relatives, rather than talking to the person who could help them the most--their doctor.

Rippe says that he would love the solution to be the medical profession launchina big effort to educate people, but he says he believes the patient should really take responsibility for his or her own health and begin the conversation. And the survey certainly shows that whether or not you think you are overweight, you should calculate your body mass index and find out for sure. The bottom line is that the doctor-patient relationship should absolutely include this conversation. The biggest danger to people is not knowing that excess weight is a health risk. The second biggest danger is not talking about it or doing anything about it.

We'd like to remind you that the "Weight Off with the Early show" diet plan starts next Monday. If you'd like to lose a few pounds with us, write to

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