Americans Struggle To Identify The Public Health Risks Associated With Obesity

Americans believe obesity is a more pressing public health issue than smoking — but, according to a new poll, that doesn’t mean Americans can correctly identify the host of public health risks associated with the nation’s obesity epidemic.

According to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Americans can correctly identify that heart disease and diabetes are related to obesity. But, despite the extensive public health campaigns attempting to address the United States’ soaring rates of obesity, Americans are largely unaware of the other consequences:

Only 7 percent of people surveyed mentioned cancer, although doctors long have known that fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus and certain other sites. Plus, being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early and to treat them.

Then there’s the toll on your joints, especially the knees. About 15 percent of people knew obesity can contribute to arthritis, a vicious cycle as the joint pain then makes it harder to exercise and shed pounds.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and strokes were fairly low on the list. Infertility didn’t get a mention.

“People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are,” Jennifer Dimitriou, a dietitian who specializes in obesity issues, told ABC News. Dimitriou pointed out that knowing more about the risk factors could encourage Americans to take steps to address their health before they’re faced with a bigger issue, such as developing Type 2 diabetes or having a heart attack.


Addressing health issues related to obesity currently accounts for 21 percent of the country’s health care spending, and that figure could rise rapidly over the next several decades. A majority of the adult population in all 50 states is now overweight or obese — and in some states like West Virginia and Mississippi, that rate is approaching 70 percent of all adults — and roughly 42 percent of all Americans are projected to be obese by 2030.