2007 -2009 Undergraduate Research in Nutrition and Food Science
BACKGROUND: According to the American Heart Association, obesity is responsible for nearly 112,000 excess deaths per year relative to normal weight individuals. Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of diseases and health conditions including hypertension, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and stroke. Although the current obesity crisis has increased public awareness of these obesity-related risk factors, 142.0 million adults are considered overweight or obese. These alarming statistics have raised many questions concerning the barriers that prevent individuals from living a healthy lifestyle.
OBJECTIVE: To determine whether obesity-related beliefs predict lifestyle choices. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study using an anonymous survey.
SUBJECTS/SETTING: A sample of 150 University of Kentucky students ages 18 to 46 years.
STATISTICAL ANALYSES PERFORMED: Comparisons, using t-tests, of beliefs regarding the cause of obesity to BMI, amount of daily physical activity, and weight-loss diet participation.
RESULTS: Of the 150 subjects, 47 were male (Age: 21.47 +/- 3.37) and 103 were female (Age: 21.37 +/- 3.12). Participants had an average BMI of 25.13 +/- 3.73. 78 % of subjects regularly engage in physical activity and 40 % of subjects have followed a diet. When asked to rank which factor is the most important factor contributing to obesity in the United States, 49.33 % said poor diet, 43.33 % said lack of physical activity, and 7.33 % said genetics. Interestingly, statistically significant correlations were not found between obesity related-beliefs and lifestyle. Participants who believed "lack of physical activity" to be the primary cause of obesity were not more likely to engage in regular physical activity than those who believed "poor diet" or "genetics" to be the primary cause. Similarly, the belief that "poor diet" was the primary cause of obesity did not correlate with an increased likelihood of participating in a weight-loss diet when compared to participants who chose other factors. Comparisons between BMI and obesity-related beliefs were also statistically insignificant indicating that those who chose "genetics" as the primary cause of obesity were not more likely to have a higher BMI than those who chose "lack of physical activity" or "poor diet".
CONCLUSION: A significant association between obesity-related beliefs and lifestyle was not observed. These data suggest that beliefs regarding the cause of obesity do not affect lifestyle choices and cannot, therefore, be considered a predictor of living a healthy lifestyle. The results of this study also suggest that efforts to modify obesity-related beliefs may not be successful in promoting physical activity or adherence to a weight-loss diet. Further research should aim to evaluate other factors that prevent individuals from engaging in activities known to reduce the risk of obesity and obesity-related health conditions.