Women underestimate their weight by five pounds on average, new survey shows

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Nearly half of parents of obese children thought their child was “about the right weight”

Women in England think they weigh about five pounds less than they actually do, new figures from the Health and Social Care Centre show today.

On average, women think they weigh 10st 11lbs (68.7 kilos) when their actual weight is 11st 3lbs (71 kilos). The gap between perception and reality was widest among women aged 35 to 39 – who underestimated their weight by nearly 8lb (3.6kg) on average.

The figures are from the Health Survey for England 2011, which this year for the first time saw the survey team ask adults their perceived height and weight before taking their actual measurements. Parents were also asked whether they thought their child was the about the right weight, too heavy or too light before their child was measured.

The survey shows that while people are generally close to knowing their actual height, their perception of weight is less accurate. Based on a survey of 8,610 adults conducted in 2011:

Men underestimated their weight by about three pounds. On average, their perceived weight was 13st (82.5 kilos), when they actually weighed 13st 3lbs (83.9 kilos).

If peoples’ own estimated weight and height were used to classify their weight, 17 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women would be classified as obese. However actual measurements put the figures at 24 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. Also:

–       almost a quarter of overweight men and a third of overweight women would have been placed in the ‘normal weight’ category.

–       a third of obese men and a quarter of obese women would have been placed in the ‘overweight’ category.

Considering survey results from parents of a total of 2007 children:

Just over four in five parents of a child measured as overweight thought their child was “about the right weight”.

Nearly half of parents – 47 per cent – of a child measured as obese thought their child was “about the right weight”.

Other topics covered by this year’s HSE included social care, cardiovascular disease, drinking habits and chronic pain. New findings include:

Social care: Among people aged 65 and over, a third of women (36 per cent) and just over a quarter of men (27 per cent ) reported a need for help in the last month with at least one activity of daily living.

Cardiovascular disease:13.9 per cent of men and 13.4 per cent of women reported being diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition. Prevalence increased with age; from three per cent of men and five per cent of women aged 16 to 24, to 54 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women aged 85 and over.

Drinking habits: The average number of days people say they drink in the week was higher when recorded in a drinking diary (introduced in the survey for the first time this year) at 3.4 for men and 2.9 for women, compared to when reported in a survey interview (3.2 for men and 2.8 for women).

Chronic pain: 37 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men reported chronic pain (defined as pain or discomfort that troubles a person all of the time, or on and off for more than three months), with a disparity between the poorest and richest households ( the bottom and top fifth based on household income). 40 per cent of men and 44 per cent of women reported chronic pain in the poorest households, compared to 24 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women in the richest.

HSCIC chief executive Tim Straughan said: “This survey gives a brand new insight into how the average adult in England has a different idea of their weight compared to what the scales actually show.

“Women appear to misjudge their weight more than men – with women in their late thirties in particular underestimating their weight by nearly 8lb.”

The full report is at: www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/hse11report

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