According to one content producer on Associated Content, obesity is destroying America, risking our national security, solely responsible for rising health care costs, and that fat people are just the single worst threat to society today. I have based this conclusion on this comment in the article: “The obesity epidemic is the single most important political, socioeconomic, and human welfare issue facing this country today.”
I submit that this is simply a case of over-reaction and poor investigation. We have soldiers dying in Iraq, we have drugs and homeless on our streets, we have children right here in America starving to death, we have people dying from diseases such as AIDS and cancer that we cannot cure – but sure, obesity definitely is much more of a concern than all of that. I think not.
So I hope you will indulge me a moment while I take the time to do some REAL research into the American obesity epidemic, provide you with some resources, and then direct you to additional information so you can see what I say is not opinion, but fact. I will also be counter-pointing (that is, picking apart) the comments made in the recent article published by content producer Jill Elaine Hughes. Please note that this may not flow well, since I am commenting on her points in the order in which she wrote them.
In response to her comment: “America is a country of fat, arrogant, and extremely lazy people. We are the fattest people in the world, in fact.”
FACT: America does have some of the fattest people in the world, and the statistics I found clearly indicate that, but I also found that America has some of the fittest people in the world too – something Ms. Hughes obviously overlooked.
It’s important to separate the fact that overweight doesn’t mean unhealthy and being slender or thin doesn’t mean healthy. That distinction is extremely crucial to make. There are plenty of very thin people who are unhealthy, unfit, or even sick. There are also a lot of people who are underweight, anorexic, or actually starving – right here in America.
The statistics used to determine how many Americans are overweight or obese are taken from a statistical sampling of Americans, and truthfully does not accurately reflect the most important factors required to determine healthiness of an individual versus the measuring criteria of overweight and obese. The Centers for Disease Control use BMI (Body Mass Index) to determine the presence of overweight or obese.
See, you cannot automatically assume all people who are overweight, which only requires a BMI of 25 or higher, are also fat or unhealthy. BMI is what is used as the standard for measuring if one is overweight, but as any fit bodybuilder will tell you, BMI is misleading in determining a healthy weight. It’s a good guideline to help those who would like to lose weight, but muscle weighs more than fat. A person can have a BMI that is high, but not be overweight for their build, and also not be unhealthy. Yet, the studies used to come up with most of these statistics are using BMI only to cite the percentage of overweight and obese in America. It’s simply not an accurate way to determine overweight or obese.
While I don’t think that this belongs in an article as an accurate comparison to overweight and obese issues, I would like to note in response to Ms. Hughes comment about the fall of the Roman Empire: the single cause of the fall of the Roman Empire was a mass migration of citizens due to problems with the way their government was established and run. It had nothing to do with the weight or diet or size or health of its citizens – and many of the Roman leaders were not fat people, arrogant and gluttons, sure, but not fat.
Moving right along…
America’s ability to compete in a global marketplace is not even remotely centered around the size or waistline of its citizens. Instead, it has a lot more to do with the value or education in America today. I refer back to the comment about obesity being the single most important political and socioeconomic issue in American today, and submit to you instead that education should far outweigh (pardon the pun) obesity as a political and socioeconomic issue. When my daughter was in high school, she had teachers who offered extra credit grades for bringing reams of paper or supplies to school – because there was not enough money in the budget for the school to purchase the needed supplies. She had to share a math textbook because there were not enough books to go around.
In our high technological world, the ability to receive a higher education is crucial to competing in the world marketplace, and unless or until the public school systems in America put the focus on education and funding our public schools, America will find itself slipping in global marketplace competition – and this is true for both fat and thin Americans, but has nothing to do with weight. However, it should be noted that currently, America still controls the majority of the global marketplace – we are an industry leader in the global marketplace in almost every single industry there is.
Citing the National Institute of Health’s May 2006 study, Ms. Hughes stated that Americans pay more for health expenses per capita than do our British counterparts. She apparently attributes this to the fact that Americans are overweight or obese and never addresses the fact that this is the case because the British have subsidized medical care and America does not. THIS is the true reason for the difference in cost. Additionally, malpractice and frivolous lawsuits abound in America, which increases the cost to all Americans for health care – and these malpractice suits and rising malpractice insurance rates for doctors in American have nothing to do with people being overweight or obese.
The conclusion that because Americans spend more on health care means we are sicker than the British and then that somehow correlates to use being fatter than the British is a very slippery slope argument, at best, and is fallacious at worst.
Ms. Hughes continues in that paragraph to state other things about her own conclusions based off the NIH’s report that are not included in the report, but are based solely off her interpretation of the report. However, she states them in such a way as to make it appear as though the report states these things. I searched the entire NIH website for over an hour and failed to find anything on that website that directly related rising health care costs to obesity or overweight. I noticed she did not include a link to this report in her article. Below is a link to the NIH’s website for you to review and draw your own conclusions.
Also, it must be understood that another reason for rising healthcare costs and insurance premiums has much more to do with the fact that our baby boom generation is now nearing or at retirement age, and elder medical care is more costly than any other type of medical care as a whole. We have a society that, for the first time in history, is about to have more people retired than it does employed. Think about what that does to healthcare in America!
For example, an elderly woman in England was recently denied a hip transplant because they said she was too old for the transplant to provide her any long term benefit because she would probably die in the next 5-7 years, making it not cost effective to perform the surgery under the government subsidized healthcare plans. Here in America, that woman would have received her hip transplant and she would have been able to spend the rest of her 5-7 remaining years of her life (or more) with a higher quality of life.
Now, let’s address the fallacious statement that type II diabetes is caused by being overweight or obese. According to many research websites I have found, “Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.” (retrieved December 3, 2006, American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/type-2-diabetes.jsp) Also, before you go calling Americans the fattest people on the planet, you might want to take a good look at the obesity rates of Pacific Islanders.
I don’t see that it says anything about overweight or obese having a higher prevalence. Additionally, it is important to note that, while it is clear that being overweight or obese can indeed increase your EXISITING risk for type II diabetes, type II diabetes also has a side effect that it causes weight gain. It is unclear to most doctors and researchers whether overweight is the effect or causal relationship of type II diabetes. In other words, it is not known whether being overweight causes you to have type II diabetes, or whether having type II diabetes can cause you to be overweight. It is important to note that someone who is not already pre-dispositioned to manifesting diabetes will never have type II diabetes, no matter how fat they may end up getting.
Next, I’ll address Ms. Hughes statement in her article: “And skyrocketing health care costs are making it more and more difficult for American companies to compete in a global marketplace in which almost every other major industrialized nation has a universal, government-supported healthcare system”
Clearly, by her own words here, the issue is a government-supported healthcare system, and has little or nothing to do with overweight or obesity. This is a political and socioeconomic issue that has nothing to do with Americans being healthy or unhealthy, fat or thin. It has everything to do with standardized care, government subsidized or controlled healthcare, and issues with frivolous lawsuits and malpractice insurance rates. Tackle THOSE issues, and we’ll see a change in insurance and health care costs. Every American today could lose weight and be in their target range for size/height/weight proportions, and I guarantee you we would still have issues with our American healthcare system – or should I say, the lack thereof. Obesity is not the cause or the problem with healthcare in America today.
Next, let’s address this statement: “Local governments and public school systems are going bankrupt underneath the weight of health care costs; state governments are having to cut funding for education and public safety to maintain Medicaid rolls – -which are heavily populated by the obese.”
This is just a ridiculous assertion, and it has no resources or data to back it up. Funding for public schools and local governments is not being cut in order to transfer those funds to Medicaid rolls. I’d like to see a link to this information, or Ms. Hughes will have to agree this was only her opinion. Clearly, she has no idea how budgets for the federal government work, and therefore, she has no clue that the funding for these two programs are administered by completely different agencies and from different sources and have nothing to do with each other.
Additionally, according to the American Obesity Association, their website says: “Medicaid does not cover obesity. Under Medicare, hospital and physician services to treat obesity are excluded unless the treatment is for certain co-existing conditions, and then it is considered on a case by case basis.” (retrieved December 3, 2006 from: http://www.obesity.org/subs/fastfacts/Obesity_Medicare.shtml)
Next, I’d like to address this statement: “Indeed, it’s now politically correct to call obesity a “disability”, instead of a self-inflicted state that is completely preventable.”
I submit for consideration that in some instances, better health care has actually contributed to the increase in overweight and obesity in America. Let’s look at a list of these common medications, most of them relatively new to the medical scene, that cause weight gain as a side effect.
According to a WebMD article entitled Is Your Medicine Cabinet Making You Fat? I quote: “Certain prescription drugs used to treat mood disorders, seizures, migraines, diabetes, and even high blood pressure can cause weight gain – sometimes 10 pounds a month. Some steroids, hormone replacement therapy, and oral contraceptives can also cause unwanted pounds to creep up on you.”
These medications are new and are used to treat conditions that before either went untreated, thus reducing quality of life, or the diseases resulted in earlier death. These medications are saving people’s lives, but the consequence is that people taking these medications may be over their ideal weight. When given the choice of being fat or being dead, I’d chose being fat any day, and I think that most Americans would agree with this.
Under the US Copyright Office’s fair use policy, I quote directly from the article mentioned above:
“Aronne recalls the case of one 190-pound woman being treated for migraine headaches who came to his obesity clinic. His team tried a variety of measures, even a liquid diet, to help her shed the unhealthy excess weight, but she stabilized after losing only 10 pounds.
“Then we switched her to a different medication, Topamax, for her migraines,” he recalls. “She lost 50 pounds and has stabilized at a healthy 133 pounds. I can offer dozens of more examples just like this.””
Let’s look at a list of some treatment drugs, most of them relatively new in being prescribed for diseases and disorders, that all list weight gain as a side effect:
Humalog, Insulin, rosiglitazone, Avandia, pioglitazone, Actos, glipizide, glyburide, Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL, Diabeta, Micronase, Glynase, Amaryl, Diabinese, Orinase, glyburide, glimepiride, chlorpropamide, tolbutamide, Corticosteroid, Progestational Steroids, diphenhydramine, Nytol, Benadryl, Alpha-Adrenergic Blockers, Hytrin, Cardura, Minipress, prazosin, doxazosin, terazosin, Beta-Adrenergic Blockers, propranolol, Inderal and Inderal LA, Lopressor, Toprol XL, Tenormin, metoprolol, atenolol, Tricyclic Antidepressants, amitriptyline, doxepin, nortriptyline, imipramine, trimipramine, mirtazapine, Elavil, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), fluoxetine , Prozac, sertraline , Sarafem®, Zoloft®, paroxetine, Paxil®, fluvoxamine , Luvox®, Vanatrip, Sinequan, Aventyl® , Pamelor®, Surmontil®, Remeron®, Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs), phenelzine, Nardil®, tranylcypromine, Parnate®, phenelzine, Lithium, Eskalith®, Eskalith CR®, Lithobi, clozapine, Clozaril®, risperidone, Risperdal®, olanzapine, Zyprexa®, Haldol, Loxitane, haloperidol, loxapine, Antipsychotics, Anticonvulsants, Depakote® delayed release, Depakote® ER, Depakote® Sprinkle, Depakene, Depacon, Depakote, valproic acid, carbamazepine, Carbatrol®, Epitol®, Tegretol®, Tegretol®-XR, gabapentin, Neurontin®
Most of these drugs listed are anti-depressant, anti-convulsants, high blood pressure medications, allergy medications, heartburn medications, and diabetes medications. Several are also steroidal in nature. It is important to recognize that 15 years ago, most of these medications either did not exist or were not available to the general public as readily as they are now. Additionally, most forms of birth control pills also have weight gain as a side effect. Many of these medications are also administered in conjunction with others of these medications, making the weight gain even more pronounced.
I submit that the obesity epidemic and the rising cost of health care in American may be related, but I would like you to consider the fact that perhaps it is not so much because Americans are getting fat and therefore are unhealthy, but rather that technology and medicine has increased in scope, allowing for more expensive testing and treatments than what was previously available, while also contributing to weight gain in some patients.
Many conditions and disorders from years ago that went untreated resulted in poor quality of life as well as often ending in early death for the patient. We can now treat so many more things than we could just 15 or 20 years ago, and the morbidity rate in America is actually declining for many previously life-threatening diseases that once killed most or all of the patients suffering from them.
At one time, someone who suffered from seizures was doomed to taking medication that altered their ability to function or chose not to take medication at all and be subject to horrendous and debilitating seizures weekly or even daily. Now there is medication that almost completely eradicates seizures in some patients without turning them into zombies, but the result is weight gain. When faced with the choice of being 30-50 pounds overweight or being free of seizures, I wonder which you would pick? Having experienced a seizure first hand, I guarantee you, I’d rather be fat than to have to experience seizures on a regular basis.
Before, many patients with medical depression, mental health disorders and the like either suffered emotionally in silence, with a very poor quality of life, or they committed suicide or were hospitalized. Today, we have medications that can improve the quality of their lives, help them feel better and be more productive citizens, keep them out of mental hospitals and keep them alive. The downside is that these medications and living with these conditions both can cause weight gain. Would you rather be miserable and unable to function or hospitalized for mental health issues – or would you rather be overweight? The choice doesn’t seem to be a hard one for me.
Ms. Hughes commented in her article at the end, “In order to reverse the tide, being fat – -let alone morbidly obese – -should be as socially unacceptable in America…”
Anorexia is an eating disorder that causes the victims of this disorder to have issues with food, how much they eat, self image, self esteem, control issues, and more. Many, but not all, anorexics are that way due to poor parenting, poor self image, and often have been victims of abuse, neglect, or rape.
Being overweight is sometimes an eating disorder that causes the victim of this disorder to have issues with food, how much they eat, self image, self esteem, control issues, and more. Many, but not all, overweight people are that way due to poor parenting, poor self image, and often have been victims of abuse, neglect, or rape.
However, it is more socially acceptable to be anorexic than it is to be overweight for the exact same reasons. There are hospitals that help anorexics take control back over their eating and teach them self image and self esteem, good mental and physical health practices, and we, as Americans, generally have sympathy and encouragement for those who suffer from anorexia.
However, obesity is not something that is socially acceptable. When a person who is too thin due to anorexia is shown in the movies or on the news, the public reaction is usually one of sympathy for their condition. When a fat person who may have the exact same internal issues but they manifest in being overweight and not underweight, the public reaction is one of disdain. The anorexic is given treatment options and insurance and Medicaid and Medicare pays for them. As I indicated earlier, Medicaid doesn’t pay for obesity issues, regardless of the cause, and most insurance companies don’t either. (Read the terms on your health insurance and I’m willing to bet most of you will see that obesity is excluded.)
A thin person looks at a fat person and thinks, “Why can’t they just not eat so much?” and automatically assumes that a person is overweight because they are lazy and eat too much. When someone looks at a thin person, one who is severely underweight, they probably think, “I wonder what medical problem they suffer from?”
Perhaps if obesity and overweight were to truly be looked at as medical conditions where medical intervention was readily available at an affordable price without the social stigma and attitude as shown in Ms. Hughes article, there would be a solution presented for the obesity epidemic facing America today. Telling a fat person to just lose weight is akin to telling a depressed person to just feel happy, or telling a diabetic to just make insulin, or telling a cancer patient to just make healthy cells. If obesity is truly such an issue, then it’s time to stop ranting about the problem and offer solutions, provide alternatives, and look at the true reasons for obesity in America.
Not all fat people are fat by choice or lifestyle, just as not all skinny people are that way by choice. I have a friend who, no matter how much she eats, cannot gain weight. She’s tried. Fortunately for her, the stigma of being underweight isn’t nearly as bad as the social stigma for being overweight, but she still is often asked, “Why don’t you eat more? You need to gain weight.” She would like that very much, but she simply can’t gain weight. By the same token, there are some overweight people that no matter how reduced their caloric intake is, they simply cannot lose weight. Genetics plays a big role.
When AIDS first came on the scene, it was a disease that many people believed happened only to gay men. Today, over 20 years later, we now know that being gay isn’t the only way one can become infected with AIDS. As the public understanding and opinion on AIDS changed, America went through many changes in how AIDS is perceived. First, it was a gay man’s disease. Then, it was discovered anyone could get AIDS, but it was through sexual contact or drug use sharing dirty needles – so the opinion changed to only the sexually promiscuous or drug users could get AIDS. But then, children who had never had sex were testing positive for AIDS having acquired it from their parents during birth, but it took a few years for the symptoms to show up. Then married and monogamous women at one point became one of the fastest growing new presenters of AIDS. Their blame? Having sex monogamously with a partner who was infected without their knowledge or a partner who was not faithful.
Eventually, we have learned that there are many ways a person may come in contact with AIDS and most Americans now do not automatically assume that a person with AIDS deserves the disease because of their actions, but there are still some who hold that belief to this day. AIDS is an epidemic.
Overweight and obesity is becoming an epidemic. The public opinion is mostly that if a person is fat, they must eat too much and are lazy. Most people may never change their beliefs on this, but I do feel that as more research and time is put into the study of WHY obesity is happening in America, we will soon learn that this is not the case for every fat person. Then and only then can American figure out what to do medically to help with the obesity issues facing America today.
I’m all for personal responsibility. There are some people who are overweight because they are lazy and eat junk. This is true. No doubt about it, and these people should step up and take responsibility and take better care of themselves – but calling them names, placing a social stigma on it, will not help them in any way. Also, to lump all people who are overweight or obese into this category is wrong and can do a lot of damage to people who have legitimate issues that could be addressed to help them lose weight, but are not being addressed because of the prevalent attitude that they must be lazy and gluttons because they are overweight.
I will attest that eating less and being more active will cause any person who is overweight to lose some weight. However, it may not cause every person to lose enough weight to fall below the definitions of obese or overweight. Additionally, not every overweight person or obese person has the physical ability to exercise, and that has nothing to do with being overweight. For example, I have systemic lupus. Exercise causes intense and severe pain throughout my body which can put me up in bed for days afterward. Flare ups of some of my lupus symptoms are heat induced, and exercise causes the body to heat up – bad for lupus. Patient who suffer from MS have similar issues with exercise. Both types of patients can be treated with steroids to help control inflammations and flares, and steroids are known to cause weight gain rapidly. So MS and lupus patients can’t exercise, can’t reduce their diets in order to stay healthy, and take medication that makes them gain weight without trying. Would you look at a fat person with MS or lupus and blame them for being fat? Being fat doesn’t cause MS or lupus, but MS and lupus both can cause you to be fat.
Diabetes and diabetic medications both cause weight gain. Losing weight does indeed help control diabetes, but there is no definitive proof that links being overweight with a higher prevalence of diabetes specifically. Instead, the only proof that can be determined is that being overweight can worsen the effects of already existing predisposed diabetic patients. Again, no research can clearly show if overweight is the cause of diabetes or the effect of it, because there are plenty of morbidly obese people who never present with diabetes, and there are plenty of thin people who do present with it.
My mother is a very petite woman, only 5’2″ tall and has never had to struggle with her weight. A few years ago, she had a mild heart attack, which prompted her getting some tests to learn she had VERY high blood pressure and cholesterol. My mother is mostly a vegetarian, she has never eaten fast food, she eats lots of fruits and vegetables, and yet, she cannot control her high blood pressure through her diet alone. She’s also very active, walking daily, exercising at home every night. So she was put on some medication to lower both her blood pressure and cholesterol, and in less than 6 months, my previously petite mother had gained almost 50 pounds and has struggled with her weight ever since. She has now lost some of that weight, but not all of it, and she continues to battle the bulge every day, but can’t seem to lose another pound.
As you can see, being overweight by the BMI index really doesn’t take much to happen, and it may not be because a person is lazy or eats too much. To say that it is would be nothing more than a gross exaggeration based on erroneous information.
Lastly, I would like to address socioeconomic issues and how it relates to weight gain. It is true that our society has contributed to the average weight of Americans being heavier than it ever has been in the past. I will agree that fast food, convenience foods, and our lifestyles have resulted in normal and healthy Americans weighing more than ever before. There does need to be some changes, as Ms. Hughes states, but she never addresses how to make those changes.
More government control by taxing junk food and punishing consumers who are both thin and fat alike is not the answer. It is never a good thing when the government steps in to regulate personal freedom – even if that freedom means we get fat. Plus, a healthy thin person who has a good metabolic rate would also be punished for purchasing the same things even though they can eat all they want of this stuff and never gain weight.
Years ago, children growing up in the society a product of the 60s, 70s and 80s were told to clean their plates because children were starving in Africa. Additionally, money was tighter back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and it was considered wasteful not to finish all the food that was prepared. Today, we Americans live in the wealthiest nation, per capita, in the world, and as such, food is more readily available now than every before, but we are still a people a product of the generations of WWI and WWII where we were taught not to waste. Also, we are the product of a country that was deprived of meat, cheese, and other ‘luxury’ foods during the depression and war eras, and many foods were rationed at the time. We grew up in a society as a whole that said to not waste what you have and now that we have the ability to have these things, we don’t waste them.
What we are experiencing here in America with the obesity epidemic is really nothing more than a sociological manifestation of the war and depression era society raising the children of today, along with better health care and intervention for diseases that is contributing to weight gain. As the obesity epidemic increases, our generation and that of our children and their children, will be raised in a society were obesity is an issue, and in about three or four more generations, we will see a sociological shift in thinking about food, eating, and health as it relates to obesity. I minored in sociology in college, and sociology studies have shown us that our generations are products of the previous generation’s attitudes, concerns and beliefs.
This being the case, it definitely is time to take action to cause a shift in the rising incidence of overweight and obesity in America. However, the way to do this is to quit pointing the finger and saying, ‘Bad fat people. BAD!” and actually focus on what the true causes of obesity are and find medical and psychological treatments to assist people who suffer from obesity for reasons other than being lazy or eating too much.