Public ‘ignorant’ of how obesity can cut life expectancy

Obesity can reduce life expectancy as much as smoking, but most people do not realise this.

A study has found widespread and worrying misconceptions of obesity that are costing lives in Ireland and Europe.

A pan-European study involving 14,000 people found that less than 50% of people realise that obesity is a disease and most are unaware that obesity causes many serious illnesses.

The study, ‘Obesity: An underestimated threat’, found that 56% of people think that obesity is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.

It was launched yesterday by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) to mark European Obesity Awareness Day.

An Irish health expert said obesity reduces life expectancy by between five and 20 years, compared to 10 years for smoking.

Grace O’Malley. chairwoman of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI), the Irish member group of EASO, said the study was alarming.

“It suggests a link between obesity as a growing public health challenge and serious widespread misconceptions about the nature, impact, causes and treatment of obesity,” said Dr O’Malley.

She said while obesity was increasingly being recognised as a disease in health and scientific communities, most people were unaware of the ongoing debate.

“The general public perceive obesity to be predominantly associated with individual lifestyle choices and pay little regard to the role of factors such as genetics, medications, inadequate sleep, hormone imbalances or mental health”

And she said many were unaware that obesity causes many serious illnesses.

“Obesity significantly increases the risk of developing serious conditions, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and osteoarthritis, as well as conditions impacting on quality of life, such as sleep apnoea and low confidence.” Dr O’Malley also remarked on the finding that many Europeans believe their loved ones are at a healthy weight.

The study found one in five of those describing themselves as a healthy weight were technically overweight and 30% of those who described themselves as overweight were obese.

Dr O’Malley pointed out that recent surveys have shown that parents frequently underestimate the weight of their children.

The study found that more than 80% of people underestimate the importance of an overall approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

Nearly one in five took no action to achieve a healthy weight and even fewer monitor their calorie intake.

Few believed that monitoring alcohol intake (23%), hydration (25%), and sleep (30%) were all effective ways to maintain a healthy weight.

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