Whether a person believes that his or her obesity was caused by overeating or by lack of exercise predicts their actual body mass suggests scientists including an Indian researcher.
Researchers Brent McFerran of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Anirban Mukhopadhyay of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology discovered from an initial survey that people seem to subscribe to one of two major beliefs about the primary cause of obesity.
McFerran said that there was a clear demarcation, as some people overwhelmingly implicated poor diet, and a roughly equal number implicated lack of exercise.
He said that genetics was placed a distant third.
McFerran and Mukhopadhyay then conducted many studies across five countries on three continents.
Data from participants in Korea, the United States, and France showed the same overall pattern: Not only did people tend to implicate diet or exercise as the leading cause of obesity, people who implicated diet as the primary cause of obesity actually had lower BMIs than those who implicated lack of exercise.
The researchers hypothesized that the link between people's beliefs and their BMI might have to do with how much they eat.
A study with Canadian participants revealed that participants who linked obesity to lack of exercise ate significantly more chocolates than those who linked obesity to diet.
And a study with participants in Hong Kong showed that participants who were primed to think about the importance of exercise ate more chocolate than those primed to contemplate diet.
The new research has been published in Psychological Science.