Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obesity: disease or lifestyle choice?

Although I didn't agree with every point, I found this thought-provoking article to be well worth reading. The main thrust of the article:

It is clear that there are many to whom obesity is a kind of lifestyle choice, and there are a host of gurus, oversize clothing retailers, and champions of the oppressed who support the idea. On the other hand, there is also a growing body of evidence indicating that many of the causes of obesity are genetic, and people with genetic pre-disposition, “lazy metabolism”, and food “addictions” can’t make a choice, at all, in the free sense this usually entails.

On the one hand, an epidemic of healthy weight would cause serious problems for may sectors of the economy, such as sugary-drink and fattening/hyper-caloried/oversized portion food manufacturers and purveyors. But the American economy as a whole would be far better off, since obesity is a major cause or at least promoter of sickness care costs, worker absences and impairment at work. And like many lifestyle choices that are arguably “constitutional rights” of people to make, obesity forces healthy people to subsidize those who choose obesity, in both labor performance and sickness care costs.

Obesity is perhaps most hard on those who actually do choose it, as well as those with less than full choice in the matter. It creates early social problems as fat kids either tend to become bullies in order to turn their weight problem into a power advantage, or become ostracized because they don’t look right. Fat kids also tend to become fat adults, and the latter suffer handicaps in getting jobs and getting paid enough for them, as well as in penalties being imposed on them by employers or difficulties and penalties in trying to get individual insurance.

Still, the “issue” of whether it is a lifestyle choice or a problem is not really an issue. It is clearly both. There are many who have no choice, but the majority of those of us who are overweight/obese, including me, become burdened by excess weight because they enjoy the process of the eating/drinking and low exercise habits that promotes it, even if they are less than thrilled about the outcomes thereof. Fortunately, there is good evidence that when offered sufficient incentives, they can often lose weight and keep it off, though it is usually keeping it off that represents the greater challenge.

For more, read "Is Obesity a Disease or a Lifestyle Choice?"

Yet another way that obesity is impacting our society, read "Obesity Taxes Ambulance Gear":

Cities and towns routinely replace older stretchers and transport chairs (which are helpful in small apartments and tight stairwells) with sturdier, wider models to safely carry bigger patients and protect medics from back injuries. Some organizations, like Rockingham Regional Ambulance, even have supersize ambulances.

"Obesity is becoming more and more of an issue when transporting patients in the United States," said Rockingham's executive director, Chris Stawasz. "It's almost to the point of a epidemic. There are large numbers of manufactures that are beefing up their stretchers."

The cost for "beefed up" equipment that can handle patients over 300 pounds? It cost one small town $15,812.

Then there is the issue of airline seats. I have met obese passengers who routinely purchase two tickets since one seat cannot contain them. However, a few years back when Southwest Airlines announced that they would require passengers who took up more than one seat to pay for the seats they were occupying, there was a huge outcry from obesity-advocacy and "fat acceptance" groups. One such group had literally taken over an online fitness discussion group that I was part of. When they weren't mocking those amongst us who were of normal weight (they literally taunted one woman off the group for a picture she had posted of herself; one fat apologist was aghast that you could actually see some muscle definition in the picture and said this was a sign of extreme anorexia --- even though the woman posting the picture was, by every medical standard, still overweight!) they were railing against society for not being more accepting and even admiring of obesity. Naturally, they had a field day with the supposed discrimination of Southwest Airlines. I pointed out that I had just flown next to an obese individual who had taken over more than half of my seat, and I was of the opinion that if I purchased a seat, I should be able to occupy the entire seat. Luckily I was seated next to one of my children, and I was able to take over some of his seat, or else I would have had to have invaded the seat of a stranger. The fat apologists seemed to think it was better for normal weight individuals to get less than what they paid for, and to be squashed into half a seat or less, than for those who took up more than their allotted space to have to pay for the seats they were occupying.

I thought the first article made the point quite well: "There are many who have no choice, but the majority of those of us who are overweight/obese...become burdened by excess weight because they enjoy the process of the eating/drinking and low exercise habits that promotes it, even if they are less than thrilled about the outcomes thereof." It bothers me when I am forced to pay --- through taxes, higher insurance premiums, not getting the seat I've paid for on the airplane, etc. --- for the unhealthy lifestyle choices of others.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Rebecca,

    I'm not writing to comment on your blog, but because I just read the Woman to Woman article on your site and couldn't find a way to contact you. At the bottom or the article it said it was from a newsletter published in '98. I was wondering whether you knew if said newsletter was still in print/circulation. I think I would like to subscribe to it, but don't want to send money into an abyss if it's no longer in print. Thanks so much!!