Even though obesity is second only to smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., 57 percent of overweight people have never had a discussion about weight with their doctors, according to a new Roper Starch survey that examined the level of communication about weight between doctors and patients. In addition, the new survey found that 62 percent of overweight people do not believe that their weight poses a serious health risk, even though being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

``These data show that both patients and physicians need to take a more active role in initiating a constructive dialogue about the health risks that extra weight carries,'' said James Rippe, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Tufts University School of Medicine and Founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and Rippe Health Assessment at Celebration Health. ``Through conversations with their physicians, people can learn about how to decrease their risk of serious weight-related conditions.''

Weight Hotline
In response to the need for more communication with doctors about weight, people now can call ``Start Talking America!'' a hotline available at 1-877-266-TALK. Callers nationwide can speak one-on-one with certified healthcare counselors, such as registered nurses and dieticians. Because obesity is a national epidemic, the hotline will be available from Monday, April 2, through Friday, April 6, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST during National Public Health Week, a time when the spotlight shines on health issues that affect the country as a whole. Callers can receive information on:

* BMI, or body mass index, the most widely accepted measurement of whether one is overweight or obese
* A health risk assessment test on how weight may be affecting your health
* How to initiate a conversation about weight with a physician

``These survey results suggest that people are not speaking to their doctors because they underestimate the seriousness of their weight problems,'' said Dr. Rippe. ``This hotline can help people overcome their reluctance to speak about weight, and lead them to pursue a healthier lifestyle by controlling their weight.''

In addition to calling the hotline, consumers can log onto weightloss.com to learn more about the risks of being overweight and the benefits of getting back to a healthy weight.

``Start Talking America!'' is sponsored by XeniCare, a comprehensive weight-loss support program featuring personal telephone counseling from a registered nurse or dietician specially trained to provide weight-loss support.

Survey Findings
The new survey conducted by Roper Starch asked 488 overweight adults (body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or above) about the level of communication with their doctors regarding excess weight. The survey found the following:

* More than one-fifth (21 percent) of overweight people do not believe they need to lose weight, and one-quarter (25 percent) have never tried to lose weight.
* A wide majority (62 percent) does not believe that excess weight poses any serious risk to health and well-being.
* More than half (57 percent) of overweight people, and more than one-third (37 percent) of people who qualify as obese (BMI of 30 or above), have not discussed weight with their doctors.
* Three-quarters of currently overweight people (75 percent) have tried in the past to lose weight without the help of a doctor.
* When asked to explain why people are not discussing weight with their doctors, it appears that overweight people are underestimating the seriousness of weight problems; 49 percent feel they can lose weight on their own, 43 percent do not believe excess weight is serious enough to speak with a doctor about, and 29 percent say they are happy with their weight and don't care to lose any.
* Half (50 percent) of overweight people have not made any effort at all to seek information about diet and weight loss, and almost as many (45 percent) people who qualify as obese (BMI of 30 or above) have not made such an effort.
* Patients are just as likely to get diet or weight loss information from a friend or family member (48 percent) as they are from a doctor (47 percent). In addition, 40 percent stated they get their weight loss information from magazines, and 25 percent cited television.
* More than half (51 percent) believe it would be helpful to have access to a personal healthcare counselor by phone.

Obesity in America
In the 1990s, the prevalence of being overweight and seriously overweight (obese) among Americans increased in every state, in both sexes, and across all age groups, races, and educational levels. More than half of American women (50.7 percent) and six in ten American men (59.4 percent) are overweight or seriously overweight.

Weighing too much is closely associated with serious, chronic conditions that can lead to death and disability. These include high blood pressure, blood cholesterol abnormalities (dyslipidemia), adult onset diabetes (type 2 diabetes), coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis of the knees and hips, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and certain types of cancer.

A national sample of 1,034 adults ages 18 and older were screened by telephone for their height and weight to identify the ``overweight'' population segment. Using the Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 and higher, 488 adults were classified as being overweight. The findings from this survey are based on telephone interviews with this national sample of overweight adults. The findings are statistically projectable to this population segment within a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 percentage points. Subgroups will have a larger margin of error. Interviewing was conducted from March 8 to March 12, 2001.

The study was conducted on behalf of XeniCare®, a comprehensive weight-loss support program featuring personal telephone counseling from a registered nurse or dietician specially trained to provide weight-loss support