In a culture obsessed with thinness and populated by lithe models and svelte celebrities, most Americans, surveys indicate, tend to have negative attitudes about the obese. They are lazy, slow, unattractive and lacking in motivation and self discipline. Or so the stereotype goes. One would think that the victims of such abuse would have a more positive sense of themselves, but, in fact, they don’t.
According to a recent, first-of-its-kind study of 4,286 people, including ones who are underweight, of normal weight, overweight and obese — the heftiest participants actually share the public’s scorn for the corpulent.
The survey, reported on in Obesity Research, showed that negative views about excess weight were common to all of the cohorts. Nearly 40 percent of the obese and more than 25 percent of the extremely obese, for instance, equated larger-than-normal figures with laziness.
The stigma against super-sized bodies is so pervasive and profound that some participants claimed they would be willing to make dramatic tradeoffs to avoid the condition. Nearly half testified that they would give up 10 or more years of their life; one-third would get a divorce; 20 percent would forgo parenthood; 15 percent would prefer to be severely depressed; and 14 percent would prefer to be alcoholics.
Such strong opinions, however, actually hinder efforts to slim down among those who need help the most. Hating yourself is not a good way to motivate yourself to engage in healthier behaviors. It is another hurdle to weight loss.
The phenomenon, unfortunately, is not confined to the USA. A report that appeared recently in the Sunday Mail in South Australia — where as many as half of all women are overweight or obese — found that many choose to stay at home, be sedentary and eat more rather than confront rudeness and rejection. Apparently, overweight women are buying into the common perception that they are stupid, sloppy, ugly and self-indulgent. The psychological consequences of such stigmatization are profound.
Individuals who are overweight face more than the psychological and emotional risks. Equally high are the physical risks from stroke and heart disease, both of which exact high personal and financial costs. Nationally, the total costs associated with obesity — e.g., medical expenses, lost productivity, etc., are estimated at over $100 billion annually.
Unless drastic action is taken, being overweight may overtake smoking as the country’s leading cause of preventable death.
Repeat recommendations are to provide children with daily, quality physical education; extend extracurricular, physical activity programs; conduct campaigns to foster public awareness of the health benefits of physical activity; and have employers create incentives for employee participation in physical exercise.
The fitness challenge put forth by the Pagosa Springs EMT Association is creating another opportunity locally for more folks to get active and to exercise. This opportunity has been accepted by many who have registered to be a part of a three-month effort to exercise, eat the right foods, and reduce body weight. The goal of this challenge is to motivate participants to not only lose weight, but to create a healthy lifestyle that they can continue after the competition ends.
I would like to believe that the growth of this interest group is due in part to the high monetary costs of health insurance, which is forcing many Americans to explore preventive measures.
Again, I hope that people are, increasingly thinking that it is their own responsibility to maintain their own health and that the fitness population will keep growing.