Does perception equal reality? Weight misperception in relation to weight-related attitudes and behaviors among overweight and obese US adults


Background - Weight misperception might preclude the adoption of healthful weight-related attitudes and behaviors among overweight and obese individuals, yet limited research exists in this area. We examined associations between weight misperception and several weight-related attitudes and behaviors among a nationally representative sample of overweight and obese US adults. Methods - Data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) were used. Analyses included non-pregnant, overweight and obese (measured body mass index ≥ 25) adults aged 20 and older. Weight misperception was identified among those who reported themselves as "underweight" or "about the right weight". Outcome variables and sample sizes were: weight-loss attitudes/behaviors (wanting to weigh less and having tried to lose weight; n = 4,784); dietary intake (total energy intake; n = 4,894); and physical activity (meets 2008 US physical activity recommendations, insufficiently active, and sedentary; n = 5,401). Multivariable regression models were stratified by gender and race/ethnicity. Analyses were conducted in 2009-2010. Results - These overweight/obese men and women who misperceived their weight were 71% (RR 0.29, 95% CI 0.25-0.34) and 65% (RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.29-0.42) less likely to report that they want to lose weight and 60% (RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.30-0.52) and 56% (RR 0.44, 95% CI 0.32-0.59) less likely to have tried to lose weight within the past year, respectively, compared to those who accurately perceived themselves as overweight. Blacks were particularly less likely to have tried to lose weight. Weight misperception was not a significant predictor of total energy intake among most subgroups, but was associated with lower total energy intake among Hispanic women (change -252.72, 95% CI -433.25, -72.18). Men who misperceived their weight were less likely (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.52-0.89) to be insufficiently active (the strongest results were among Black men) and women who misperceived their weight were less likely (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.54, 1.00, p = 0.047) to meet activity recommendations compared to being sedentary. Conclusion - Overall, weight misperception among overweight and obese adults was associated with less likelihood of interest in or attempts at weight loss and less physical activity. These associations varied by gender and race/ethnicity. This study highlights the importance of focusing on inaccurate weight perceptions in targeted weight loss efforts.






Duncan, D., K. Wolin, et al. (2011). "Does perception equal reality Weight misperception in relation to weight-related attitudes and behaviors among overweight and obese US adults." International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 8(1): 20.

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Duncan, Dustin T, Kathleen Y Wolin, Melissa Scharoun-Lee, Eric L Ding, Erica T Warner and Gary G Bennett (2011). Does perception equal reality? Weight misperception in relation to weight-related attitudes and behaviors among overweight and obese US adults. 10.1186/1479-5868-8-20 Retrieved from

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Gary G. Bennett

Dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Gary G. Bennett, Ph.D., is dean of the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University.  

As dean, Dr. Bennett is responsible for defining and articulating the strategic mission of Trinity College, ensuring a world-class liberal arts education in a research environment for all students, and attracting, retaining, and nurturing a diverse community of distinguished faculty.

Dr. Bennett is a professor of psychology & neuroscience, global health, medicine, and nursing, and is the founding director of the Duke Digital Health Science Center.  He is a global leader in designing, testing, and disseminating digital behavior change interventions. Dr. Bennett developed the interactive obesity treatment approach (iOTA); his recent work demonstrates the effectiveness of digital strategies in treating obesity in the primary care setting.

Nearly 20 years ago, Dr. Bennett created one of the first digital health research programs. His laboratory has since become a global leader in designing, testing, and disseminating digital behavior change interventions, especially for medically vulnerable populations. Dr. Bennett has authored nearly 200 scientific papers, and the National Institutes of Health have continuously funded his research program with more than $20m in grant support.  From 2018-2019, Dr. Bennett served as president of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the nation's largest organization of behavioral change scientists. Dr. Bennett is an elected Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and Behavioral Medicine Research Council member. 

Before assuming his role as dean of Trinity College in February 2023, Dr. Bennett served as vice provost for undergraduate education. He provided strategic vision and leadership for Duke’s undergraduate experience.  As vice provost, he oversaw the Office of Undergraduate Education, comprising 15 units that enrich Duke's undergraduate academic experience through academic advising, academic support, nationally competitive scholarships, merit scholar programs, financial aid, study abroad, and several co-curricular programs.  Under Bennett’s leadership, Duke introduced several advancements to make the undergraduate experience more enriching and equitable for all students, including the DukeLIFE program to support first-generation and low-income students, and QuadEx, Duke’s inclusive living and learning model that integrates undergraduates’ social, residential and intellectual experiences.

Dr. Bennett is a member of Duke's Bass Society of Fellows and is the founding director of Duke's undergraduate major in global health. He has served on committees to examine Duke's undergraduate curriculum and develop the university's strategic plan and has co-led the Board of Trustees Undergraduate Education Committee since 2018. His students' course ratings have repeatedly placed Dr. Bennett in the top 5% of Duke's undergraduate instructors.

Dr. Bennett has also co-founded three digital health ventures. Crimson Health Solutions developed digital disease management interventions and was acquired by Health Dialog in 2007. In 2014, he co­ founded Scale Down, a digital obesity treatment startup based on the science of daily self-weighing. Scale Down was acquired by Anthem in 2017. He is a co-founder of Coeus Health, a leading provider of health APIs. Dr. Bennett advises leading digital health and consumer electronic organizations on the science of health behavior change.

Before joining Duke in 2009, Dr. Bennett served on the Harvard School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute faculties. Dr. Bennett earned a bachelor's degree at Morehouse College, an AM and PhD in clinical health psychology at Duke University, completed a clinical internship in medical psychology at the Duke University Medical Center, and was the Alonzo Yerby postdoctoral fellow in social epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Bennett lives in Raleigh with his wife (also a Duke alum) and his two daughters.

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