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WASHINGTON - Many Americans are in denial about their weight problems, according to an Associated Press poll, although more than half say they have been on diets at some point.
Those who do watch what they eat are more likely to trim fat than take the trendier approach of cutting carbohydrates.
Such issues are on people's minds with the approach of summer, when many will try to squeeze into swimsuits without wincing in front of the mirror.
In an overweight nation, just 12 percent say they are on diets right now, the AP-Ipsos poll found.
Most people who have been on diets say they've regained at least some of the weight they had lost. Twenty-three percent say they've gained it all back.
"I've been up and down for many years - it is hard," said Ann Burris, a 59-year-old teacher from Tallahassee, Fla. "I've tried, and I understand nutrition, but it's a lack of self-discipline. I'm going to retire this year, and I want to try to get to a healthy weight."
Who's to blame for America's weight problem?
More than three-quarters said individuals bear the responsibility for themselves, while 9 percent pointed to family and 8 percent blamed fast-food restaurants.
The AP poll found that six in 10 who qualify as overweight under government standards say they are at a healthy weight. Only a quarter of those who are obese consider themselves very overweight, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
People are unlikely to admit the severity of their weight problems for fear of being seen in a bad light, said Dr. William Dietz, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Many also may be unfamiliar with government standards.
"There have been lots of changes in food intake - fast foods, increased portion sizes, soft drink consumption," said Dietz, director of the CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity. Additionally, he said, people are exercising less nowadays.
About two-thirds in the poll said they have tried to start regular programs of physical exercise in the last year.
When asked which health risk posed the greatest danger to Americans today, most in the AP-Ipsos poll said unhealthy eating habits.
The AP-Ipsos poll asked people their height and weight and used a government formula to determine if they were overweight.
About half, 49 percent, qualified as overweight or obese, based on their reported height and weight. However, respondents in a telephone poll could be inclined to understate their weight, and men were more likely than women to report weights that would make them officially overweight.
Only 36 percent in the AP poll described themselves as overweight, just over half the number considered overweight by government standards.
A 1999-2000 government study of nutrition found that almost two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Almost one in six said being overweight is a major problem for them or someone in their family. More than half said it was at least a minor problem.
A majority in the poll, 56 percent, said they attempt to restrict fat in their diets, while 33 percent said they try to restrict carbohydrates, foods like bread and pasta. Low-carb approaches like the Atkins diet have been around for decades but have grown increasingly popular in the last few years.
"It's not surprising that a good percentage are sticking with the lowfat diets they knew about when they grew up," said Eric Rimm, a nutrition specialist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Jennifer Bryan, a 36-year-old massage therapist in Coronado, Calif., said exercise is the key component since she has had to focus more on her weight in recent years.
"I'm not overweight on anybody else's standards," said the former NFL cheerleader. "I've always had a magnificent, fantastic body. But it's all about exercise."
In that group of people who have dieted in the past, almost four in 10 said they gained back most of the weight they lost, and about as many said they gained back some of the weight.
"My problem is that I have no approach to it at all," said Jim Lunger, a 44-year-old market researcher from Louisville, Ky. "I know it can be a health problem, but what a way to go."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken May 17-19 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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