Poll: Few Americans know all the risks of obesity


A poll finds that few realize obesity's links to cancer, arthritis and respiratory problems

The other consequences aren't so well known.

"People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are," said Jennifer Dimitriou, a bariatric dietitian at New York's Montefiore Medical Center.

Only 7% 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% 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.

Also, 5% put respiratory problems on the list. Studies show people who are overweight are at increased risk of sleep apnea and asthma, and that dropping pounds can help improve their symptoms.

Knowing more about the myriad ways obesity affects health could help motivate people to get more active and eat better before full-blown disease strikes, Dimitriou said.

"Most people want to become healthier. It's the know-how, and understanding what the consequences are," she said.

But only 52% of those surveyed said they've discussed the health risks of being overweight with a doctor.

In another complication, the AP-NORC Center survey found that about half of people think their weight is just about right, and only 12% of parents think their child is overweight. That's even though government figures show two-thirds of U.S. adults, and one-third of children and teens, are either overweight or obese.

If you're surrounded by overweight people, especially in your family, "then that's all you know, and that to you is normal," Dimitriou said.

The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Nov. 21 through Dec. 14. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,011 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Associated Press news survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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This AP story was originally released January 7, 2013. It is estimated that approximately one-half the world’s population receives news and information from The Associated Press each day, which suggests the reach and penetration of each of these stories.

A new poll suggests that while more than 7 in 10 Americans can correctly tick off heart disease and diabetes as obesity's most serious consequences, few Americans are aware of the lesser-known health issues. (Mark Lennihan/AP)