Myths and Misconceptions About Obesity

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Rates of obesity have become a major health concern across the United States and all over the world. Sadly, there are many myths about obesity. They can lead to harmful stereotypes, stigma, and behavior.1

When it comes to understanding obesity, it is important to separate fact from fiction. That way, you can hold a more informed and empathetic perspective. Here are some common myths about obesity.1

Myth #1: Obesity is a result of poor willpower or laziness

One of the most harmful myths about obesity is that it occurs because a person has poor willpower or is lazy. This is an oversimplification. The truth is that obesity is a complex medical issue.1,2

There are many things that can combine to lead to obesity, including:1

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Rare diseases
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Environmental influences
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Mental health issues
  • Side effects from certain medicines

Also, many people living with obesity have made lifestyle changes to try to lose weight. But these changes may not be enough. In this case, medical treatment options may be needed.1-3

Myth #2: Obesity is not a disease, but a lifestyle choice

This is another harmful misconception. People do not “choose” to have obesity.2

Obesity is considered a disease. This is because it affects various parts of the body in negative ways. It also puts stress on different organs, such as the heart and kidneys. Obesity has been shown to lead to many serious health conditions, such as:2

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Myth #3: All obese people have unhealthy eating habits

Not all people with obesity have unhealthy eating habits. It is true that diet plays a large role in weight management. But several things can affect a person’s weight that are not related to their diet, including:2

  • Genetics
  • Hormones
  • Metabolism
  • Underlying health issues

Myth #4: Children with obesity will "grow out of it"

Childhood obesity is a serious concern with long-term health effects. In many cases, kids with obesity will not simply grow out of it. Research shows that children who are overweight or living with obesity are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.4

Early intervention can teach kids to practice healthier habits. This helps them have a positive body image and reduces their risk for certain health conditions as they age. It is vital to approach childhood obesity with sensitivity and support both children and their families.4

Myth #5: Weight stigma affects only emotional health

Weight stigma also can affect a person’s physical health. People with unhealthy body weights may avoid going to the doctor for fear of judgment or blame. This can lead to undiagnosed health conditions and delayed medical care. Stigma can also increase the risk of disordered eating, which has a direct effect on overall health.3

It is important to adopt an attitude of empathy around obesity rather than rush to judgment and assumptions. Everyone can help provide education and understanding about weight management. Together, we can make a healthier society that supports people who are living with obesity.

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