There is no denying that we have reached epidemic levels of obesity in this country. Obesity accounts for mounting medical issues for individuals as well as financial difficulties for society at large. Public policy-makers often point back to obese people as the heart of this epidemic, but putting the blame on “personal choice” will not solve the problem of obesity in the US. In fact, doing so might only exacerbate an already challenging problem and obscure the true, complex causes of our health crisis.
The Personal Costs of Obesity
The personal consequences of obesity can be devastating. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, cancer, and sleep apnea are among the medical problems that can arise from obesity. There are also a host of psychological issues stemming from obesity as overweight individuals tend to see themselves as less attractive and less important. Weight gain can strain personal relationships especially as medical issues mount and overall health is affected.
The 3 Factors of Obesity Beyond Personal Control
The issues with obesity should cause alarm for individuals and the public at large. Unfortunately, many have taken the approach of blaming overweight people for the obesity epidemic and ignoring the wider issues that contribute to this very complex health problem. Stigmatizing obese people is counterproductive since it typically leads to more weight gain and disregards the environmental, genetic, and medical problems that create obesity. In order to help obese people it is worth understanding the factors they’re grappling with, and offering them support.
Unhealthy Social Environment
Public policies that place the problem of obesity squarely on the individual have proven ineffective. Research shows the best initiatives to curb obesity are those that create an environment which enables people to embrace better health. Fast food corporations, for instance, advocate for “consumer choice” that encourages unhealthy consumption while policy-makers fail to address the poverty and social breakdown connected to obesity in rural areas and urban centers. Until policies targeting obesogenic problems in the community are widespread, people struggling with obesity are facing an uphill battle against their very surroundings.
The Genetic Factor
Even when the environment is less likely to contribute to obesity, problems like childhood obesity arise because of genetics. A person’s genetic makeup plays a big role in whether or not they are prone to obesity. Research suggests people with certain genes may have a harder time curbing their appetite. Inherited diseases and the medication used to control them can affect metabolism, leading to uncontrollable weight gain. Ignoring genetics as a factor in obesity keeps many people in the dark about the best ways to control their weight.
Medical Issues That Cause Weight Gain
Medical issues from autoimmune diseases to long-term recovery after an injury can cause or worsen obesity. Even something as simple as hormonal shift as a person ages can set off a chain of metabolic changes that lead to obesity. Dozens of commonly prescribed medications can cause obesity as well. This puts an overweight person who depends on a steroid, diabetes medication, or psychiatric drug in a terrible dilemma. If a person in this situation assumes obesity is only a matter of poor habits and decisions, it could lead them to ignore the underlying health issues causing weight gain.
Discrimination Leads to Weight Gain
One study shows how discriminating against overweight people can lead to more weight gain over the course of a few years. As criticism from loved ones and the broader culture make a person feel worse about himself, he is more likely to continue gaining weight. Anecdotally speaking, there are many stories of people gaining weight while feeling depressed. Science says there is a clear link between depression and weight gain.
A negative attitude toward obese people can increase depression, loneliness, and break down the social support a person losing weight needs to succeed. It also relieves the wider community of responsibility, letting policy-makers and corporations who contribute to the problem unjustly off the hook.
Stop Blaming, Start Helping
Despite the popular opinion that obesity is a purely personal problem, research on the matter points to an opposite reality. Obesity is typically not the fault of the individual person. Personal choice is only one small piece of the issue and sometimes makes no difference in the face of genetic and medical problems causing weight gain.
If someone you love is struggling to make better decisions about their weight, you can make a difference by supporting your loved one from a position of awareness and understanding. Let them know you love them unconditionally, recognize the complexity of their situation, and offer to lend support as they journey toward better health.