YouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor

Poll finds 50% overweight Britons 'embarrassed' about weight, although many deny true BMI level

Only 6% of Britons believe that their weight problem is severe enough to be classified as ‘obese’, our poll for Slimming World has found as part of the weight-loss group's annual National Slimming Survey, despite figures showing that a quarter of the UK population (24%) has an obese Body Mass Index (BMI)*.

However, while the survey found that some three quarters of those with a severe weight problem are in denial about their true size and see ‘obesity’ as something that happens to other people, it also found that emotional worries about weight still make overweight Britons deeply unhappy.

  • 6% of people in the UK think that they have an obese BMI
  • Yet 24% of people in the UK actually do have an obese BMI
  • More than one in three people (36%) who are very overweight feel that weight is ‘the most important issue in life’
  • 50% feel ‘embarrassed’ about their extra weight
  • While 37% say that they feel ‘ashamed’, 32% ‘disgusted’, and 23% say they feel ‘trapped’ by being overweight

Weight problems becoming 'normalised'

Commenting on the findings, Slimming World has explained that people are likely to reject the ‘obese’ label because of how it makes them feel about themselves.

Constant worry and feelings of guilt and shame make slimming down and being in control feel impossible, Slimming World claims, so those with a weight problem deny that anything is wrong and tell themselves that everyone’s getting bigger so it doesn’t matter. 

Slimming World has also suggested that the rapid rise in obesity in recent years has caused weight problems to become ‘normalised’, meaning as many as 10 million people are unaware that their weight is placing their health at risk.

Building confidence

'This worrying new data reveals the complex psychological issues associated with being overweight,' says Dr Jacquie Lanvin, Slimming World’s Head of Nutrition and Research. 'Many people – including many health professionals – believe that managing weight is just about energy balance, and that people simply need to ‘eat less and exercise more’.

However, that approach can never work while so many people deny how severely their weight could be affecting their health by increasing their risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke or while they struggle with the emotional burden of being overweight, which can affect their confidence in their ability to make healthy lifestyle changes. As individuals, we need support to tackle the deep-rooted psychological issues around how we feel about our weight before we can begin to make those changes.' 

Dr Lavin continues: 'Studies of behaviour change show that helping people to lose weight is not just about giving them information and lecturing them on what they should and shouldn’t eat. It’s about encouraging and empowering people to want to make the change for themselves.

When it comes to weight management, it’s as much about tackling deep-seated emotional and psychological issues as it is about providing practical help around diet and activity...helping people to understand why they are struggling, building confidence in and rewarding their ability to make changes and giving them realistic practical tools so that once they lose weight, they can keep it off for life.'

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