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Awareness of risks of overweight among rural Australians
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Fiona CoulsonFiona Coulson, V Ypinazar, S Margolis
Abstract: INTRODUCTION: Overweight and obesity are highly prevalent in rural areas and pose significant risks to health. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the rural public in central Queensland are aware of the health risks of overweight and to determine whether their perceptions of weight status and methods used to assess weight status correspond with those of health professionals. METHODS: Adults were randomly selected from shoppers in shopping centres in Central Queensland, Australia, to self-complete a questionnaire that assessed participants' understanding of the health risks of overweight, perception of current weight, methods used to assess current weight and understanding of the concepts of body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Participants were also asked to provide demographic details and self-report their height and weight. RESULTS: The majority of participants were appropriately aware that, regardless of their degree of physical activity, overweight is associated with increased risk of heart disease (92%), type 2 diabetes (83%) and stroke (83%). A large proportion were also aware of the association of overweight with sleep apnoea (69%), fertility problems (68%) and arthritis (57%) but few were aware of the link with asthma (35%) and various types of cancer (14-32%). Knowledge of the health risks of overweight did not differ greatly across the BMI spectrum, with similar beliefs expressed by those who were classified overweight or obese (based on self-reported data) and those who were not. Women were more aware of the health risks of overweight for type 2 diabetes and fertility problems, less likely to be overweight, and to more accurately perceive their weight status compared with men. The majority of participants used subjective measures to assess weight status and few used or understood BMI or WHR. CONCLUSIONS: Rural people in central Queensland appear to be well aware of the health risks of overweight but many are unable to identify overweight in themselves and few understand how to accurately gauge their weight status. This exploratory study highlights the need to educate people in these communities about accurate and objective measures to assess overweight and obesity. Further studies are needed to assess how common misperception of weight status is among rural populations in Australia and to determine whether this contributes to a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity in rural communities compared with urban areas.