By LAURAN NEERGAARD and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heart disease and diabetes get all the attention, but what about the many other ways obesity can damage your health?
Carrying too many pounds may lead to or worsen some types of cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea, even infertility. But a new poll suggests few Americans realize the links.
Only about one-quarter of people think it's possible for someone to be very overweight and still healthy, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Ask about the most serious consequences, and more than 7 in 10 Americans can correctly tick off heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the nation's leading killer, and diabetes and obesity are twin epidemics, as rates of both have climbed in recent years.
The other consequences aren't so well known.
"People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are," said Jennifer Dimitriou, a bariatric dietitian at New York's Montefiore Medical Center.
Only 7 percent of people surveyed mentioned cancer, although doctors long have known that fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus and certain other sites. Plus, being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early and to treat them.
Then there's the toll on your joints, especially the knees. About 15 percent of people knew obesity can contribute to arthritis, a vicious cycle as the joint pain then makes it harder to exercise and shed pounds.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and strokes were fairly low on the list. Infertility didn't get a mention.
Also, 5 percent put respiratory problems on the list. Studies show people who are overweight are at increased risk of sleep apnea and asthma, and that dropping pounds can help improve their symptoms.
Knowing more about the myriad ways obesity affects health could help motivate people to get more active and eat better before full-blown disease strikes, Dimitriou said.
"Most people want to become healthier. It's the know-how, and understanding what the consequences are," she said.
But only 52 percent of those surveyed said they've discussed the health risks of being overweight with a doctor.
In another complication, the AP-NORC Center survey found that about half of people think their weight is just about right, and only 12 percent of parents think their child is overweight. That's even though government figures show two-thirds of U.S. adults, and one-third of children and teens, are either overweight or obese.
If you're surrounded by overweight people, especially in your family, "then that's all you know, and that to you is normal," Dimitriou said.
The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Nov. 21 through Dec. 14. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,011 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
How the poll was conducted
By The Associated Press
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll on obesity and diabetes was conducted from Nov. 21 to Dec. 14 by NORC at the University of Chicago. It is based on landline and cellular telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,011 adults. Interviews included 599 respondents on landline telephones and 412 on cellular phones. No interviews were conducted on Nov. 22.
Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.
Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.
As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population's makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use -- landline only, cellphone only and both -- by region.
No more than 1 time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.2 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.
There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.
The questions and results are available at http://www.apnorc.org.