Winthrop Poll finds obesity denial

jholleman@the state.comFebruary 25, 2013 

  • Healthful weight A Body Mass Index formula is used to determine the best weight for your body size.

    Do the numbers: Calculate BMI by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches squared and multiplying by 703. For adults, anything below 18.5 is underweight, from 18.5-24.9 is normal, 25.0-29.9 is overweight and 30.0 and above is obese.

    Don’t do math? Go online to and plug in your height and weight.

    S.C. health What South Carolinians think, according to last week’s Winthrop Poll. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your personal health?

    Satisfied - 72.1 percent; Dissatisfied - 25.7 percent; Not sure - 1.8 percent; Refused - 0.3 percent.

    Did you experience stress a lot of the day yesterday?

    Yes - 36.2 percent; No - 62.9 percent; Not sure - 0.6 percent; Refused - 0.3 percent.

    How many days during the past seven days did you engage in vigorous physical exercise for at least 30 minutes?

    0 - 29.1 percent; 1-2 - 23.4 percent; 3-4 - 22.9 percent; 5-7 - 22.3 percent; Not sure - 1.8 percent; Refused - 0.4 percent.

    How often were you worried that food would run out in your household before you were able to afford to buy more in the past 12 months?

    Often - 6.3 percent; Sometimes - 15.0 percent; Never - 77.5 percent; Not sure - 0.7 percent; Refused - 0.4 percent.

— As South Carolina’s leaders step up their efforts to battle obesity, their first step might be convincing residents the problem hits close to home.

According to the Winthrop Poll released last week, many South Carolinians aren’t realistic about their weight.

The poll asked a number of health-related questions, and the answers were similar to recent polls. About 29 percent of state residents don’t exercise at all. About 21 percent worry at least occasionally that they will run out of food. About one-tenth are depressed, and about one-third feel stressed.

The pollsters asked about the respondents’ weight. Only 13 percent said they weighed “much higher” than their ideal weight, while 37 percent said their weight was “somewhat higher” than ideal.

Compare those to results compiled by state health officials based on actual weight, which indicate about 32 percent of South Carolinians are obese and another 34 percent are overweight. It appears a lot of the people who responded to the Winthrop Poll aren’t being realistic.

Russ Pate, a University of South Carolina exercise science professor and a leading national researcher on exercise and fitness, thinks the responses point to two things.

“People tend to report their own status in a light that is somewhat more favorable than the reality,” he said. “And this may reflect a shift in the social norm, our sense of what is normal. The population is heavier, and we may gradually be coming to see this as the accepted norm.”

In fact, the rate of obesity in the state has more than doubled since 1990 – up to 32 percent in 2010, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Perspectives out of whack

Amy Splittgerber, director of Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina, wasn’t surprised by the Winthrop Poll results. Like Pate, she worries perspectives have been knocked out of whack in the past two decades.

“When the majority of the population is overweight, you can see how easy it might be to consider oneself of ‘normal’ weight,” she said. “However, there are serious health consequences of this trend including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.”

When people suffer from those diseases, they end up at facilities such as the Palmetto Health Weight Management Center. Registered dietitian Kimberly Ellison said by the time patients get to the center, they no longer have misconceptions about their weight problem.

One reason they end up there, she said, is another miscalculation based on a changing societal norm – food serving sizes.

“People tend to underestimate how much they eat,” Ellison said. “If you go out to eat, they serve you these ridiculous proportions. People think ‘I’m doing good. I’m only eating half of it.’”

Ellison believes most overweight people have a genuine interest in eating better. But first they have to face reality.

Just because many of your friends and family members are overweight, that doesn’t make it all right for you. And just because everyone in the restaurant is eating a 12-ounce chunk of meat, doesn’t make it good for everybody.

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