Obesity, the disease of the affluent society, can lead to physical and social problems. Why do people become obese and how can we avoid it?
In many cases, obese adults produce children with a tendency toward obesity. Genetics is certainly a leading factor in determining the weight of our body, but isn’t the only one—the environment is a crucial component as well.
Our diet is characterized by high-calorie foods that are cheap and widely available, and technological developments that allow us to achieve things with minimal effort. Hence, with little exercise, it’s no wonder that the obesity issue takes a central place in our lives.
It has been shown time and time again that people are getting more and more obese: more than half of the US adult population and 25% of the child population are obese, and the numbers keep going up—both in the US and in other developed countries.
It is clear today that obesity is related to serious medical issues such as heart and vascular diseases, diabetes and even cancer, and that it increases the death rates among those affected.
Fortunately, people’s awareness about how their weight affects how serious health concerns is increasing, due to both medical and aesthetic issues.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health. People are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of the person’s height in meters, exceeds 30 kg/m2.
Obesity is a continuation of overweight, a state caused when the amount of energy entering the body (set by the amount of calories in the food with eat) regularly exceeds the amount of energy emitted (the amount of calories we “burn” during physical activity). In a condition where the energy balance is on the positive side, the body stores the excess energy in the fat reserves.
Conversely, in a state of true hunger the amount of energy entering the body is lower than the amount of energy emitted—a condition of negative energy balance, wherein the body uses the fat reserves as energy reserves.
When the fat reserves run out, the body starts saving up: it recruits all the systems and resources in order to survive, and closes down all the processes that “waste” energy: the body’s temperature declines, the secretion of hormones that are related to puberty and fertility is halted, as are other systems that are not necessary for survival.
This is all due to the fact that during human prehistory, people had to search for food and deal with its scarcity. In response, the body developed some efficient defense mechanisms, which mostly assist in states of hunger.
However, the body lacks mechanisms that can assist it in dealing with excess energy in states of abundant food. Hence, in this time of abundance we shouldn’t rely on our body mechanisms, but rather help our body by maintaining a healthy lifestyle: this means balancing food and physical activity.
Health consequences and potential risks of obesity
Obesity increases the risk for many health issues, such as:|Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancer (endometrial, breast, colon)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Dyslipidemia (for example, high levels of cholesterol and/or triglycerides)
- Liver/gallbladder disease (for example, fatty liver and/or gallstones)
- Sleep problems (for example, sleep apnea and other breathing problems)
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Gynecological problems (for example, abnormal menstruation and/or infertility).
These conditions may lead to disability and even early death.
Cardiovascular diseases—mainly heart diseases and stroke—are already the number one cause of death in developed countries, killing 17 million people each year. Diabetes is quickly becoming a world epidemic—the World Health Organization predicts that death due to diabetes will increase by 50% around the world in the next 10 years.
Less common—but still prevalent—health conditions associated with obesity include asthma, fatty liver, and sleep apnea.
Economic consequences of obesity
Because obesity has a tight connection to health issues, it has a serious economic influence on increasing medical expenditure and a burden on the medical system in general.
There are direct and indirect expenses—the direct ones including prevention services, diagnoses and treatments related to obesity, while the indirect ones are related to decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, sick leave, loss of income due, or an untimely death.
As a result, it is often more difficult for obese individuals to get comprehensive or affordable health insurance, which in turn sometimes limits their ability to obtain timely care for secondary conditions, and often results in more expensive emergency treatments and hospitalizations.
Social and occupational consequences of obesity
Society is not very tolerant towards obese people. Obese people not only suffer from health problems and damage to their quality of life quality, but also from discrimination and humiliation, regardless of their social, intellectual, and economic status.
Western society undoubtedly has countless social stereotypes against heavy people. However, obesity does not only impact health and social aspects of people, but also on their occupational realm. Obese people face stereotypes like laziness, negligence, and lack self-discipline and control.
British research conducted among 300 managers observed managers’ treatment of obese workers. It was found that 70% of managers said that they believe obese workers lack self-discipline and control, while 67% claimed that obese workers lack motivation and energy to perform work efficiently.
A second, even larger-scale study conducted at the American University of Detroit also pointed to the impact of obesity on professional success and work promotion. The researchers found that an obese person has lower chances of being hired, is more likely to be treated in a more hostile manner at work than his/her thinner colleagues, and will be less likely to get promoted.
In general, obese workers are exposed to more criticism from their managers, who may assign them “inferior” tasks, their average salary is lower, and they are seen as lacking self-discipline and as tending to give up easily.
In addition, obese workers are seen as less productive, more costly in terms of health insurance, and therefore are more likely to receive lower salaries in comparison to thinner colleagues: it was found that obese people tend to be paid 1-6% less than people of normal weight, independent of education and socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, obese people are seen as having a higher risk of suffering from various health conditions, an issue that is often used by companies as a consideration in hiring.
In many cases, these risks can be considered to outweigh “personal ability” by prospective employers, and thereby connect obese people into stereotypical categories, that forces a significantly lower chance of the overweight job hunter integrating into the work force.
So what can we do?
While we can’t necessarily control how the world contributes to or perceives obesity, we can give ourselves the tools to be healthy and happy. Believe that competence is ultimately rewarded, and go forward. Take positive steps toward a healthy lifestyle despite outside pressures. Little by little, all will add up to your benefit.