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Weight Control

Losing Weight: Health Professionals and Public Differ on Who's Really in Control

Losing weight may not be as simple as following a health professional's advice to be more physically active and to eat healthier, lower-fat foods, a new survey suggests. In fact, Americans have a more fatalistic attitude about weight loss than health professionals seem to realize.

There is a large difference of opinion between health professionals and Americans over how much control people have over their weight, according to the Discovery Health Channel survey, which was developed with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. These findings may play a significant role in how you prepare your organization's weight management programs, and the success of your wellness initiatives focusing on weight loss.

"There's Nothing We Can Do..."

Many Americans feel that being overweight is due in part to factors outside of a person's control, the study found. For example, 41 percent said neither overweight nor obese people have any control over their weight and two-thirds (67 percent) feel obese people have no control.

Of those people who report currently being overweight, 21 percent said they are not currently taking any steps to lose weight and 25 percent of these people are not planning to take any steps in the future to lose weight.

Survey results indicate that a major factor in the country's weight problem is the widespread feeling that gaining weight is a natural part of the aging process. Americans also believe weight loss through a change in diet and exercise eventually will be gained again, the survey found.

Motivation Is the Key...

Conversely, doctors, nurses and dietary health professionals said they believe most adults can maintain a healthy weight if they are motivated and exercise self-control. In fact, only 7 percent of doctors, 10 percent of nurses and 15 percent of dietary health professionals indicated that a person's weight is due to factors beyond his or her control, a direct conflict with the public's view on weight loss and nutrition.

Overall, health professionals may underestimate the psychological reasons people are not motivated to lose weight, as well as the lack of efficacy or choice people feel in dealing with weight problems, the survey said.

Other results of the national poll included:

  • Americans believe the kind of food a person eats is more important than the amount of food eaten. Health professionals agree the kind of food is important, but they also feel that the amount of calories eaten also plays a role in weight loss and weight maintenance.

  • Thirty-seven percent of Americans cite reasons for why people gain weight that are beyond a person's control: depression (11 percent), genetics (10 percent), metabolism (6 percent), personal life problems (6 percent) and medical problems (4 percent).

  • Doctors cite motivation (19 percent) as the most important barrier to treating overweight and obese patients.

  • Other than "liking to eat" (18 percent), the No. 1 factor Americans cited for their difficulties in losing weight is willpower and self-control. Americans recognize how hard it is to lose weight far more than the medical and health community, Discovery Health Channel noted.

Address: Discovery Health Channel, c/o Discovery Communications Inc., 7700 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814; (301) 986-0444,

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing