Survival expectations of the obese: Is excess mortality reflected in perceptions?
OBJECTIVE: This study compared self-reported subjective life expectancy (i.e., probability of living to age 75) for normal-weight, overweight, and obese weight groups to examine whether individuals are internalizing information about the health risks due to excessive weight. RESEARCH METHODS AND PROCEDURES: Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a total of 9035 individuals 51 to 61 years old were analyzed by BMI category. The primary outcome measure was individuals' reports about their own expectations of survival to age 75. Absolute and relative risks of survival were compared with published estimates of survival to age 75. RESULTS: Consistently, higher levels of BMI were associated with lower self-estimated survival probabilities. Differences relative to normal weight ranged from 4.9% (p < 0.01) for male nonsmokers to 8.8% (p < 0.001) for female nonsmokers. However, these differences were substantially less than those obtained from published survival curve estimates, suggesting that obese individuals tended to underestimate mortality risks. DISCUSSION: Individuals appeared to underestimate the mortality risks of excessive weight; thus, knowledge campaigns about the risks of obesity should remain a top priority.
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