Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is There an Obesity Epidemic?

I was going to write about some specific people today, and how they are influencing prejudice against those who are overweight, but while doing research, I saw the phrases "health crisis" and "obesity epidemic" come up over and over again, and I found that those were what I really needed to write about!

As soon as I heard the term "health crisis", I started looking into life expectancy data.  I had thought that people were living longer every year, and I was correct.  Life expectancy goes up every year.  The death rate from cardiovascular illness in particular goes down every year.  Matter of fact, it is down over 60% since 1970.  I would think that this data would show that people are in better health than ever before.

Then I started looking particularly into the obesity epidemic.  It is a fact that Americans have gotten a bit heavier every year since 1970.  Whether this is a bad thing or not really has not been shown though.  It could possibly even be a good thing.  When stating that someone is overweight or obese, arbitrary standards have been set.  Obesity has actually been redefined throughout the years to be lower and lower.

Obesity is a risk factor for some health problems.  This does not mean that you will get sick.  This does not mean that you will die.  It just means that you have one risk factor that increases the likelihood of developing certain conditions.  Being obese does not mean that you are unhealthy.  High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, and genetics are other risk factors.  They are actually stronger risk factors for cardiovascular disease than obesity is.    High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity are easier to improve than obesity.  They are also common in the thin and average weight population as well as in the obese population.

Stress is a very strong risk factor in cardiovascular disease.  Worrying chronically about your weight is a source of stress to many.  I have been worrying about my weight since I was 11 years old and had my doctor tell me that I could lose a few pounds.  I weighed 120 lbs. and was 5'2" tall.  He asked me what I liked to eat (obviously expecting me to say candy or cookies or something), and I answered oranges.  He was somewhat at a loss for words finally stammering that I needed to just eat less in general.  I am certain that stress is my biggest risk factor at this time.  I am so glad that I have chosen to focus my life on positivity, passion, and play letting go of my weight worries.

If health is our concern, we need to start focusing on health.  Eating foods that make us feel great and moving with joy throughout the day are things that are easy to incorporate into ones life.  Weight is a very visible characteristic.  There is far too much focus on weight in our society and far too little focus on the things that really matter.

Coming soon:
Does being overweight provide any health benefits?
What are the consequences of being underweight?
Who benefits when people worry about their weight?
How are cultural icons damaging our self perceptions?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teens and Obesity Discrimination

I went to a book store today and was browsing the books in the teen section. A lot of them dealt with anorexia nervosa. Obviously this is a serious illness that can result in death. As I read a few of the book jackets, I got to thinking about how discrimination against the overweight pervades our society. Although families vary in the views that they express to their children and some parents isolate their children from society to a certain extent, for the most part, American children are raised in a culture that sees overweight people as somehow not as good as thin people. The obese are often portrayed as funny, stupid, sloppy, lazy, or worse. Overweight people are under-represented in the entertainment industry and in many other professions.

When I went to school, every one knew who the fat kids were. They were often taunted in elementary school. As they got older, they were more likely to take on the roll of class clown, and in high school, overweight boys were the ones I most saw getting beat up on by bullies. I was at the most fifteen pounds overweight in high school, and yet, I felt that I was horribly fat. Now that I fall into the group of the morbidly obese, I wonder if my path might have been different if I hadn't dealt with so much weight related stress and obsession back then.

Looking at those books about anorexia in the bookstore, I couldn't help but wonder how much discrimination against those who are fat contributes to eating disorders especially in teens who are very vulnerable to peer pressure and emotional problems. It also made me want to spread the word that obesity discrimination is wrong. Yes, you should encourage children in healthy habits including eating nutritious foods and being active. No you should not encourage your children to obsess about their weight or to treat anyone differently because of their weight! Be careful what you say and what attitudes you express. Someone who looks up to you might be listening or picking up your attitude. Also, don't be afraid to speak up if you hear someone expressing negative opinions about someone based on his or her weight. Research has shown that just one conversation can change someone's view on the obese.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Employment Discrimination and Obesity

As I continue to explore the reseach about discrimination against the obese, I am not surprised to see that study after study shows discrimination in all areas related to employment.  This discrimination is worse for women than it is for men.  Overweight women are less likely to be hired, less likely to receive raises, less likely to be promoted, and more likely to be fired than thin women.

In one study, employers were given resumes with photos for available positions.  Thin women were often favored over overweight women even when the overweight women was more qualified.  When employers were questioned about their decisions, they often said that overweight individuals were lazy, sloppy, and not good workers.  Reality shows no correlation between obesity and the performance of most job tasks.  Obviously certain jobs have physical fitness requirements, but even for these jobs, simply being overweight may not correlate with a low fitness level.  Assumptions should not be made about applicants based on their weight alone.

I think the most shocking research result that I saw was one employer survey where 16% of the respondents said that they would not hire an overweight woman under any circumstances!  Knowing that there is a huge heredity component to obesity and that very few people are successful at irradicating the condition in spite of a huge drive by any obese person that I have known, I feel that employers need to stop judging and start hiring the best people for the jobs.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thoughts on Obesity

Recently I have started to recognize prejudice against the overweight in a way that I had not in the past.

Today I stumbled upon this article from Obesity , a research journal dedicated to the topic of obesity.  The article explores the fact that not only is prejudice against obesity alive and well in modern society, it is increasing at an alarming rate!

As someone who was once afraid to socialize thinking that no one would want to be my friend because I was fat, and who is still terrified of taking walks on the side of the road because of the the taunts occasionally hurled in my direction, I was not surprised to read that weight related stigma correlates to emotional problems which then can lead to the very behaviors that could increase weight.

I have a lot more thoughts about this, but this was a very busy day.  My body aches and is ready for bed.  I will write more tomorrow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Long Break from Blogging

I found myself taking a long break from blogging recently.  I had some other things I wanted to concentrate on, and spring has been calling me off on adventures.  I have missed my time spent here though and plan on getting back in the blogging habit!

There have been two things that I have been thinking about lately.  One is making sure that what I do is what I want to do.  It is so easy to pick up things from others and not be true to ourselves.  The other is society's prejudice against those who have a higher amount of body fat.  I will be posting more on these issues in the days to come!