The New York Post recently published an excerpt from a new book on weight loss by controversial author and journalist Harriet Brown under the heading, “The Obesity ‘Crisis’ Is a Myth.” Obesity is already an incredibly complex topic; it affects more than one-third of children and adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with another third affected by being overweight. With such a high percentage of our population affected by obesity, it is irresponsible to intentionally mislead people and downgrade its importance. The National Institute of Health’s 2013 study Pharmacotherapies for Overeating and Obesity states that obesity has reached pandemic levels, costing $100 billion per year by way of obesity-related illnesses and loss of productivity. In fact, the same study notes that obesity “is rapidly surpassing smoking as the number one killer in the industrialized world.” The strain of extra weight on vital organs contributes to a significant number of medical concerns—that is a fact. To imply that obesity does not have a significant impact on our health is irresponsible at best.
Rather than creating conspiracy theories about obesity (we have changed our definition of overweight on the BMI scale) and blaming the dieting industry (dieting causes weight gain), it is our duty as professionals who want to create a healthy America for future generations to send messages in support of the solutions rather than the problems. Rather than arguing that obesity is not an epidemic, dieting is bad, BMI is bunk, and that research doesn’t show you’ll die from being overweight—all of which are arguably false—the professionals should offer solutions on how to get healthy and how to combat the harmful messages our society receives every day.
One such solution is to take a scientific approach to weight loss. For instance, the United States Preventative Special Task Force (USPSTF) states that medium to high intensity immersion behavioral interventions are effective for long-term weight control. Simply put, research shows behavioral therapy can be very effective long-term as a form of treatment for overweight.
Also, current research supports that certain foods can have effects on the brain similar to addictive substances, which supports the idea that we need to pay attention to our consumption of added sugars and processed foods.
As important as healthy eating is to a sustainable lifestyle, there can also be underlying emotional issues that contribute to obesity. Binge eating and indulging in “comfort foods” can also lead to significant weight gain. Without addressing those underlying symptoms of obesity, the weight loss won’t be sustainable and it will lead to further discouragement.
Additionally, when considering the mental health perspective, it’s important to take into account the quality of life for those who are overweight or obese. Any number of published research articles point to a direct correlation between being overweight and having a decreased self-reported quality of life. That’s certainly not to say that everyone who is carrying extra weight is unhappy; however, it is reckless to say that it’s just the way we measure weight that is the problem (changing BMI definitions). The number of medical concerns caused or exacerbated by the strain of extra weight on vital organs is a fact. At the same time, we need to be aware of the impact that carrying extra weigh can have on self-compassion, self-acceptance, confidence—all of which can impact progress toward meeting individual goals, like getting hired for a job or finishing college. Even if one’s medical health is not immediately affected, examining the quality of life is an important consideration.
My point is that it is irresponsible to take such a complex, multifaceted issue and oversimplify it by calling it a “Myth.” The millions of people who are already thoroughly confused or discouraged by their lack of success in weight control do not need to hear that “this really isn’t that big of a deal.”
Extreme dieting and trendy diets can lead to destructive behavior. America needs to move toward a “healthy obsession”—engaging in the types of behaviors every day that will lead to healthier weights. These behaviors would be a lifestyle overhaul to include eating real foods; avoiding addictive sweeteners, additives, and processed foods; and making it a point to get moving, to exercise every day. At the same time, on a larger scale, our society as a whole needs to reexamine priorities with regard to marketing dollars spent on food advertising and stop inundating our children and the public with constant food cues.
That is a cause I could get behind.