Who are you calling fat? We are bigger than ever, but think we're thinner

We are getting fatter but we think we are thinner, and the trend could have serious implications for the obesity epidemic, a study has found.

Growing obesity in the population has increased what is perceived as "normal" weight, which is leading to large numbers of people underestimating how fat they really are. As a result, more people are failing to recognise they are overweight, despite an increase in the prevalence of obesity in the population.

However, thin women who are prone to feeling they are overweight have benefited from the change. The findings show they are less likely to perceive themselves as fat than in the past.

Professor Jane Wardle, of the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, said: "Recognising you are overweight is the first step to doing something about it. Those who do not see themselves as carrying excess pounds will not be motivated to act."

Comparison of two household surveys conducted in 1999 and 2007 showed the proportion of respondents who had a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over, defined as overweight, increased from 43 to 53 per cent. But the proportion who correctly identified themselves as overweight fell from 81 to 75 per cent.

The proportion who were obese (BMI of 30 or over) nearly doubled from 11 to 19 per cent but most of these were aware they were too fat. Body mass index is a composite measure calculated as height in metres squared, divided by weight in kilograms.

Professor Wardle said: "The whole population weight has been moving up and as a result people in the mid-range with a BMI of 26 or 27 [classed as overweight] think of themselves as being normal. They can't believe that what is normal among their friends and neighbours could be overweight.

"The increase in population weight has changed the norm. I have conversations about obesity with friends who have BMIs over 30 yet they never appear to be aware it is a problem that applies to them. It always seems to be about other people."

Professor Wardle said that the publication of pictures of grossly obese men and women in the media may have contributed to the trend. "There is such a lot of publicity about obesity and the images used are always of someone with a very high BMI of 40 or 45 because they have the most impact. Someone with a BMI of 30 looks fine beside that."

It was essential people had an accurate perception of their own weight, she said, so that those who needed to shed pounds would be motivated to do so.

Only 75 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men with BMIs of 26 perceived themselves as carrying excess weight in 2007, down from 85 per cent and 65 per cent in 1999. "We would like people to be taking action [to control their weight] when their BMI is in the range of 26 or 27," Professor Wardle said. The study was based on self-reported weights and heights. Research shows people commonly underestimate their weight and overestimate their height, so the situation was likely to be even worse than it appears.

Perception and reality

43 per cent were overweight in 1999

81 per cent identified themselves as overweight in 1999

53 per cent were overweight in 2007

75 per cent identified themselves as overweight in 2007

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments