More than Half of Americans Support Weight Loss Surgery

BY Rachel Cagle
Featured image for “More than Half of Americans Support Weight Loss Surgery”

More Americans than ever are dealing with the health consequences of obesity as rates of the disease in the United States and other parts of the world reach an all-​time high. But along with the diabetes and heart disease that often accompany obesity, more than one-​third are also dealing with the issue of "fat shaming" or weight bias either personally or through someone they know, according to a new national survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and sponsored by Ethicon.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 40% or 93.3 million U.S. adults have obesity with 7.7% of them having severe obesity.

The majority of Americans say "fat shaming", a term that describes the act of humiliating someone based on their weight by making mocking or critical comments about their body size, is a common occurrence.

Key Findings

  • Over half (52%) believe people with obesity are "fat shamed" all or most of the time and 34% say that they themselves or someone they know have experienced it firsthand. Among those with obesity, that number rises to 43% of respondents.
  • Eighty-​five percent of all Americans, regardless of their own weight, consider "fat shaming" to be a serious issue — 48% of them think it's extremely serious or very serious.
  • The majority of adults (58%) believe that stereotyping or shaming of people with obesity occurs in the media and in social situations (37%).
  • Twenty-​nine percent say it frequently affects hiring decisions and work promotions (22%).
  • About 1 in 5 say people with obesity are often provided a lower quality care by doctors and other medical professionals (18%).
  • 9 out of 10 Americans believe people with severe obesity think the best way to lose weight is through diet and exercise, either on their own or in consultation with a doctor or a personal trainer.
  • More than half (55%) support weight-​loss surgery, which medical experts consider the most effective long-​term treatment for severe obesity.
  • The public is torn about whether or not obesity is a disease: 53% think it is and 46% think it's a lifestyle choice, despite that in 2013, the American Medical Association (A.M.A.), the nation's largest physician group, officially recognized obesity as a disease that requires a range of interventions for treatment and prevention.

The age group with the highest percentage of Weight Loss Surgery Patients (27.3%) is U.S. adults between the ages of 17 and 24, reports AudienceSCAN. This age group is notorious for being digitally connected and right fully so. About 46% of Weight Loss Surgery Patients own Android mobile smartphones, 38.5% own iPhones, 30.6% use Android tablets while 26.9% use iPads and 16.5% own smartwatches. Not only do these consumers own a plethora of mobile devices, they're 153% more likely than other adults to find advertising on their mobile apps useful to them and 93% more likely to find social media advertisements useful. They're active on social networks such as Facebook (79.7%), YouTube (67.1%), Instagram (51.3%) and Twitter (46.5%).

"The way people feel about obesity may affect how they themselves or people they know go about trying to lose weight," said Dr. Christopher Still, an obesity medicine specialist and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. "People are often reluctant to seek treatment beyond diet and exercise out of shame or embarrassment, so more effective treatments are left unexplored or are viewed more negatively. This is particularly concerning when it comes to treating severe obesity, where diet and exercise alone have been proven to be largely ineffective over time."

While the vast majority of Americans (79%) consider weight-​loss surgery to be medically appropriate for severe obesity, 19% still think it's a cosmetic procedure and 24% say they would actually oppose a family member's or close friend's decision to have it, while 57% would be proud of their decision and 10% say they would be disappointed or ashamed.

Obesity medications are even less popular with the American public. Less than half support the use of prescription obesity medications and only a quarter support a friend or family member taking over-​the-​counter diet pills. In fact, the use of over-​the-​counter diet pills is opposed by more people (54%) than any other weight loss method.

"People's perceptions of obesity and weight-​loss surgery may be one reason that less than 1% of the eligible patient population have life-​enhancing weight-​loss surgery each year and why obesity continues to be the major public health threat that it is," said Elliott Fegelman, MD, Therapeutic Area Lead for Metabolics, Ethicon, Inc. "Prevention is important, but access and an openness to effective treatments beyond diet and exercise are critical for those with the disease."

Weight Loss Surgery Patients can be encouraged to take steps to overcome their condition through positive advertisements. Last year, according to AudienceSCAN, 65.7% of this consumer group took action after seeing an advertisement on their mobile smartphone apps or after receiving a text ad and 60.1% clicked on text link ads on websites. They're also 31% more likely than other adults to take action after receiving email ads. TV is where 35.5% of this group gets most of their local news and, last year, 72.7% took action after seeing a TV commercial.

AudienceSCAN data is available for your applications and dashboards through the SalesFuel API. Media companies and agencies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.