The number of obese Americans is increasing while the number of those trying to lose weight is decreasing, according to study published this month by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Titled “Change in Percentages of Adults With Overweight or Obesity Trying to Lose Weight, 1988-2014,” the study says that carrying excess weight has become socially acceptable in the U.S.
Because more people are satisfied with being overweight, fewer are motivated to slim down, says the study, which was conducted at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern.
“You would hope that as being overweight and/or obese become more well-known risk factors for a variety of conditions and diseases, more people would attempt to avoid that risk,” said Kassandra Snook, the study’s lead author.
“I think the results of this research are very significant in showing that the obesity epidemic is continuing, and will continue to worsen as long as no weight loss attempts are made,” Ms. Snook said.
Obesity has been linked to a number of maladies, including diabetes and heart disease.
Lauri Wright, a registered dietician, said with the high numbers of obese and overweight Americans, “it is no longer the norm to be normal weight” and that the study reflects this reality.
A movement of positive body image has gained traction in recent years, with higher visibility of plus-size women and men either in high-fashion runway shows or music and popular culture, such as the TLC reality show “My Big Fat Fabulous Life.”
Ms. Wright, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that there are positive and negative aspects to this trend.
“Positive body image is very important for preventing eating disorders such as binge eating, bullying and other mental stress,” but being comfortable with ones is taking away from improving one’s health, she said. “Related to more social acceptability, it may be that if people are more positive and satisfied with their body image, they will be less motivated to lose weight.”
A negative outlook on dieting can also help explain the study’s findings, Ms. Wright said.
“There is a common belief that ‘dieting doesn’t work’ and ‘if you lose the weight, you will just gain it back,’” she said. “As a result, many people are not even trying to reach a healthier weight. It is a defeatism attitude.”
Despite the wide availability of public information about the health dangers of being overweight — linked to a number of maladies including diabetes and heart disease — Ms. Wright said people are just unwilling to believe it can happen to them.
“What we see a lot in public health is denial — ‘Though most people that are overweight get diabetes, it won’t happen to me,’” she said. “We strongly encourage people to consult with a registered dietitian for a personalized plan of nutrition and activity to help achieve a healthy weight and lifestyle.”