Monday, January 28, 2019

How Overweight Are Americans?

When the General Social Survey is taken every two years, GSS interviewers who talk to respondents in person are asked to rate respondents and their home and neighborhood on a variety of measures. How clean is their home, and how safe is their neighborhood? How attractive is the respondent, how well groomed, and how overweight? The answers to these questions can reveal interviewer bias and, over time, perhaps changes in the health and wellbeing of the public. Here is what GSS interviewers thought about the weight of Americans (the nationally representative sample of respondents to the GSS) in 2016...

How would you rate the respondent's weight?
  5.7% very overweight
26.7% overweight
60.2% about the right weight
  6.6% slightly underweight
  0.9% very underweight

GSS interviewers clearly don't know what overweight looks like since they report that only 32 percent of respondents are overweight or very overweight. Measurements of a nationally representative sample of the population, taken by the federal government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, show that a much larger 70 percent of the public is overweight and 40 percent is obese. GSS interviewers report that most respondents (68 percent!) are the right weight or underweight, but in reality just 30 percent of the public is normal or underweight.

It’s no surprise that GSS interviewers are poor judges of weight. The public is bad at judging weight too—especially their own. Only 43 percent of obese Americans know they’re obese, according to one study. The rest think they are about the right weight or only overweight and not obese. A Gallup survey finds that just 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women think they are overweight, well below the 70 percent measured by the government.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the 2016 General Social Survey

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