AHA LogoAccording to a latest Dallas Heart study, some obese people seem to misperceive that their body size is normal and think they don’t need to lose weight.

For the purpose of the study, the authors were believed to have examined 5,893 people. Participants included about 50 percent blacks, 20 percent Hispanics and 30 percent whites similar to other urban populations. Also, nearly half i.e. 54 percent seemed to be women.

By means of the sex-specific Stunkard nine-figure scale, participants were noted to have chosen the figure that represented their present body size and the figure that represented their ideal body size. Further, self-perceived ideal body size appears to have been categorized as below normal, normal and above normal. Body size discrepancy, a measure of body size satisfaction, was observed to have been calculated as the difference between self-perceived actual and self-perceived ideal body sizes.

They found that approximately 8 percent of the 2,056 who were obese said they seemed to be satisfied with their body size or felt they could gain weight. African Americans i.e. 14 percent and Hispanics comprising 11 percent appeared to be considerably more likely as compared to whites i.e. 2 percent to be satisfied with their body size. Moreover, they were of the opinion that they did not need to lose weight.

“Almost one in 10 obese individuals are satisfied with their body size and didn’t perceive that they need to lose weight. That is a sizeable percentage who don’t understand they are overweight and believe they are healthy,” says lead author of the study, Tiffany Powell, M.D., and a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The authors found that those with a misperception of body size believed they were healthy. However, about 35 percent of them seemed to have high blood pressure while 15 percent had high cholesterol, nearly 14 percent suffered from diabetes and 27 percent were existing smokers. These risk factors were believed to have been similar to obese individuals who accepted they had a weight problem and needed to lose weight.

Overall, 2 to 3 percent of the study population perceived an above-normal body size as ideal. Subsequently, the authors did a comparison between subjects who perceived their ideal body size as normal and those who perceived ideal body size to be above normal. They found that subjects who perceived their ideal body size to be above normal may possibly be women besides, African American appeared to have a higher body mass index, blood pressure and higher insulin resistance.

The findings further revealed that those who misperceived their body size appear to be less likely to visit a physician. In fact, approximately 44 percent didn’t go to a physician during the past year in contrast to 26 percent of obese participants who correctly perceived they needed to lose weight. Apparently, there was no considerable difference between the two groups in socioeconomic status or access to health care due to insurance status.

Also, amongst those who did see a physician in the past year, the obese individuals who did not feel they needed to lose weight were noted to be much less likely to report that their physician had told them they need to lose weight than to those who perceived they needed to lose weight i.e. 38 percent vs. 68 percent. Likewise, only 38 percent may possibly have spoken with their physician about dietary changes, whereas 64 percent of those with a more accurate body perception talked about changes.

Powell said that, “This is an important population that we aren’t seeing or targeting. Understanding and countering this misconception may be a novel and perhaps vitally important target for obesity prevention and treatment. Because many of these individuals believe they are healthier than they really are, they do not go to the doctor and thus community interventions will be needed.”

Nevertheless, she emphasized that her findings show that physicians need to talk with their obese patients about exercise and weight loss. The responsibility apparently falls on physicians to determine who this population is and how to speak with them. But, the major drawback of the study is that the authors seem to be unable to gather causality between associated beliefs and behaviors because the study was cross-sectional.

The findings of the study have been presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2009.