Health & Wellbeing

Obese people perceive objects to be further away, scientists find

Obese man sitting on a bench, looking at a boat

Scientists have discovered that people who are obese, or overweight, perceive objects to be further away compared to people who are a healthy weight. 

Tests found that a person weighing 23 stone sees objects as being twice as far away as someone who weighs nine stone. This also applies to hill gradients; as a heavier person will perceive a hill to be steeper than a slimmer person. 

The results, discussed in the Independent, suggests that people who are obese may need greater motivation when being physically active. Scientists believe that this is caused by a survival mechanism from our past, allowing overweight people to instantly evaluate testing situations, without having to think about them. However, this may also work against efforts to be more active. 

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington DC, Dr Jessica Witt, from Colorado State University, commented on the findings of the research. 

“Effort and performance influences perception. People who weigh more than others see distances as farther and hills as steeper, the idea being that if you have to carry this extra load that also impacts your perception. And yes, it cannot be controlled, it is out of your hands.”

Motivation is an influential factor for the majority of people when it comes to exercise, let alone for individuals who are overweight. When activities seem difficult, it’s human nature to want to give up and take the easy way out. 

The reason why overweight people may be more reluctant to participate in exercise, run long distances or walking up hills, is because they perceive the task as more challenging and difficult than people of a healthy weight. 

Fitness professionals should be aware of these findings to ensure they provide additional support to clients who are overweight. In particular, P.E teachers need to take the information into consideration when they are encouraging overweight students to actively participate in lessons.