With all of the news surrounding obesity and the focus we all seem to put on weight, you would probably assume that you (and everyone else) is able to determine whether or not someone is a healthy weight simply by their visual image. Especially when it comes to obesity, this doesn’t seem like a difficult determination.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool say most of us — even healthcare professionals — are unable to visually identify whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight or obese.
The researchers asked participants to look at photographs of male models and categorize whether they were a healthy weight, overweight or obese according to World Health Organization (WHO) Body Mass Index (BMI) guidelines.
The majority flunked. They underestimated weight, often believing that overweight men were a healthy weight.
In a related study of healthcare professionals, the researchers also found that general practitioners and trainee GPs were unable to visually identify if a person was overweight or obese.
The researchers also examined whether increased exposure to overweight and obese people affected a person’s ability to estimate the weight of a person. Their findings suggested that exposure to heavier body weights may influence what people see as a normal and healthy weight and causes people to underestimate a person’s weight.
“We wanted to find out if people can identify a healthy, overweight or obese person just by looking at them,” said Dr. Eric Robinson, who conducted the research. Primarily we found that people were often very inaccurate and this included trainee doctors and qualified doctors too. Moreover, we found that participants systematically underestimated when a person was overweight or obese.”
“Our study of GPs also found a tendency to underestimate weight which has important implications as it means that overweight and obese patients could end up not being offered weight management support or advice,” he said.
Recent studies have found that parents underestimate their overweight or obese child’s weight and this could also act as a barrier to intervention.
FoodFacts.com wonders if the tendency to underestimate obesity by sight has something to do with people not having a clear understanding of their own weight. Of course there are weight ranges easily available that categorize healthy weights by gender, age and height. Those weight ranges do vary by source, however and may serve to confuse some. Those ranges also can’t take body type into account. While we understand that people shouldn’t be overly focused on weight for a number of good reasons, we do think that we should all have a reasonable understanding of where we stand on the healthy weight scale. Our doctors should also undoubtedly be able to guide us to what a healthy weight should be for each of us. If we can’t “see weight,” we do need that guidance. While we might be thinking it’s just “a few extra pounds,” the reality may, in fact, be quite a bit different. We owe it to ourselves to find out.