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Obesity in America

fat person photo Most of us have heard that we have a problem with obesity in America. We have heard that our kids are becoming increasingly obese and we have heard that our adults are not far behind.

But recently a fact has emerged that is even more alarming.

America is now number one among industrialized nations in terms of the proportion of our adult citizens who are obese or overweight. What does this say about us?

According to data gathered by the World Obesity Federation, about 75% of adult Americans are either obese or overweight. In contrast, Indonesia has only about 11% of obese or overweight adults.

The World Obesity Federation, which represents professional members of the scientific, medical and research communities from over 50 regional and national obesity associations, measures obesity through the Body Mass Index (BMI). The formula for measuring obesity is: weight in kg/height m². For adults overweight, or pre-obesity, is defined as a BMI of 25-29.9 kg/m², while obesity is defined as a BMI ≥ 30 kg/m².

The fact that some countries have a high percentage of overweight people while other countries have a low percentage indicates that the cause of obesity is nurture, not nature. If obesity were genetic, then the percentage of obese adults would be roughly the same all over the world. We can conclude that the cause is environmental but we cannot be sure whether that environmental cause is bad nutrition, wealth, poverty, the fast-food craze, imitation (monkey see, monkey do), stress, or a combination of such factors.

Part of the cause, particularly in America, may be that we accept obesity and defend it. Some individuals seem to think it is their human right to be overweight or obese, and they become irate about being body-shamed. Others then step in and support a person’s right to be overweight. What this means is that we may be a country that enables obesity. Sometimes we even applaud it as a kind of new normal, and do not emphasize the benefits of being physically fit.

Obesity is more than simply a matter of taste, lifestyle or fashion. It affects a person’s—and a country’s—overall health. It is linked to heart disease and stroke; high blood pressure; diabetes, some cancers, gallbladder disease and gallstones; osteoarthritis; gout; breathing problems such as sleep apnea; and asthma.

Obesity can reduce your life expectancy by 3 to 10 years, depending on whether you are moderately or severely obese.

Hence overweight or obesity is a sign that America, being number one, is not a healthy country. We are a country with weight problems and weight problems are related to sleep problems. And if we could take the blood of all our adult citizens and measure the amount of stress hormones each citizen carries, we would likely find that we are also a country that has a stress problem. It is not normal for any animal, whether it be a human or a cat or an Africa elephant.

Indeed, according to the World Obesity Federation, overweight and obesity are on the rise all over the world, not just in the United States. The WOF is obviously concerned about this rise and is focused on not only finding out the cause of the rise, but also ways of preventing it. So far is has not found a surefire method for preventing it. We can’t prevent something unless we can understand the cause. There are many theories about the cause, as I mentioned earlier, but none has been singled out as the definitive answer.

My educated guess is that the quality of life in America, and in the world, is behind the rise in overweight and obesity.

We have a negative quality of life in America that comes from the divisiveness and strife between political groups, races, genders and religions; from deceitful advertising that promotes unhealthy nutrition; from parenting that does not adequately socialize children with regard to eating habits; from leaders who get us into conflicts or wars with other nations; from terrorist attacks and mass killings that seem to be happening week-by-week; and from a thousand and one other ticks and nicks in our daily lives.

No matter what environmental cause is behind the rise in obesity, it is definitely preventable. Preventing it requires us to take note of the various possible causes and address them, rather than doing what we are now doing: becoming a nation of enablers.

Obesity in America

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). Obesity in America. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/2017/07/obesity-in-america/


Last updated: 22 Jul 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jul 2017
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