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No Willpower Blamed for Obesity

Despite evidence pointing to genetic markers, most Americans believe people are overweight because of a lack of self-control.
November 2, 2016

​CHICAGO – A new study finds that although Americans think obesity ties with cancer as the biggest threat to the nation’s health, a majority blame lack of willpower as the cause, the New York Times reports. NORC at the University of Chicago released the findings yesterday.

Research has shown that obesity has little to do with overeating or not exercising; rather, it’s caused by the environment (i.e., an abundance of cheap food) and genetics. However, three-fourths of survey respondents credit lack of self-control as the main reason for obesity, with the best treatment being to take responsibility, diet and workout.

Ninety-four percent of the obese survey respondents attempted weight loss via exercise or diet without success. A fourth of those said they had tried five to nine times, while 15% said they had clocked more than 20 attempts. “Trying 20 times and not succeeding—is that lack of willpower, or a problem that can’t be treated with willpower?” asked Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian.

The study also showed how pervasive these misconceptions about obesity treatment are, including in the medical profession. Doctors aren’t taught about obesity and its causes in medical school.

“It’s frustrating to see doctors and the general public stigmatize patients with obesity and blame these patients, ascribing attributes of laziness or lack of willpower,” said Dr. Donna Ryan, an obesity researcher and professor emerita at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. She wasn’t involved with the study. “We would never treat patients with alcoholism or any chronic disease this way. It’s so revealing of a real lack of education and knowledge.”