Mark Dolliver: Feeling Fit

Few experts dispute the common-sense view that obesity is bad for one’s health. As such, one would expect the rising incidence of obesity to have left large numbers of Americans feeling their health is lousy. But a report from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates it hasn’t happened, at least yet.

Using data collected during the first quarter of this year, the report found 26 percent of Americans age 20 and over are obese, up from 19 percent in 1997. The chart here gives a breakdown by age and sex. When asked to assess their own health, meanwhile, two-thirds of of adults rated it as “excellent” (35 percent) or “very good” (31 percent), and another 24 percent said it’s “good.” Just one in 10 classified their health as either “fair” (8 percent) or “poor” (2 percent).

Simple arithmetic tells you that a majority of people who are obese nonetheless believe their health is “good” or better. Indeed, that’s all the more true when you take into account the fact that self-reported less-than-great health tends to be concentrated among old folks (understandably enough), while obesity is not.

You’d think a rise in obesity would bring a decline in the percentage of people who are physically active, but this hasn’t happened either. In the new study, 31 percent of adults said they engage in “regular leisure-time physical activity.” That’s a shade above the average for the past 10 years. People may just be running to the refrigerator, but it seems to leave them feeling fit.