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Minnesotans are in denial about their weight, poll finds

Minnesotans are a bit self-delusional when it comes to their weight, a new poll has found.
According to the poll, only about 30 percent of us admit to being overweight — and only about 6 percent of us admit to being “significantly” overweight.

Minnesotans are a bit self-delusional when it comes to their weight, a new poll has found.

According to the poll, only about 30 percent of us admit to being overweight — and only about 6 percent of us admit to being “significantly” overweight.

Yet, the actual number of overweight and obese Minnesotans is much, much higher.

In fact, according to a study released last year, obesity alone (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher) is a reality (even if we’re in denial) for 25.3 of us adults living in Minnesota.

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And, indeed, the actual (not the perceived) obesity among the 500 respondents to this new “Shape of Minnesota” poll, commissioned by the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota, a coalition of local employers and health organizations, supports that figure. For when the respondents’ BMIs were calculated (from height and weight measurements the respondents themselves provided), some 30 percent were found to be obese. And another 31 percent were overweight (defined as a BMI between 25 and 29.9).

That makes 61 percent of the respondents — not 30 percent — who were either overweight or obese.

As the pollsters note in the analysis to their report (which you can read in full here), “Minnesota native Garrison Keillor once famously said, ‘I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.’ Many in the North Star State appear to be taking his advice to heart.”

Not unexpected
The poll’s findings didn’t surprise Lisa Harnack, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. “People tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height,” she told me in a phone interview.

Part of the reason we fail to acknowledge the reality about our weight has to do with the “normalization” factor. “Compared to other people you look normal,” Harnack said. “So you don’t realize you have a problem.”

Minnesotans do seem to think that other people have a weight problem, however. According to the “Shape of Minnesota” poll, 86 of Minnesotans believe that obesity is an important health issue for the United States.

What particularly concerns Harnack, however, are the blinders many parents wear when faced with their own children’s obesity.

“Most parents don’t realize that their kids are overweight,” she said. In fact, she added, research has found that parents are more concerned about their child being underweight than being overweight — even when their child is at a healthy, “normal” weight.

That’s the normalization factor coming into play again. Today, many parents consider a normal-weight child “too thin.”

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The Minnesota poll found that 84 percent of parents expressed no concern regarding their own children’s weight. And, although 84 percent of the respondents said they opposed the decision to drop physical education requirements for students, only 60 percent said they had ever discussed exercising more with their kids

Take a reality check
To figure out whether or not you may be overweight or obese, plug your height and weight numbers into the National Institutes of Health’s BMI calculator.

Yes, yes. There are problems with using BMI to determine obesity, but it’s a good starting place.