Chances are good that most, if not all, of the adjectives that come to mind when a person ruminates on obesity are unflattering: lazy, repulsive, gluttonous. In fact, of all the body types, only obesity elicits universal disdain. But this was not always the case.
When food was scarce, a heavy male was regarded as quite the catch. His rotundity equated to wealth and prosperity. By and large, it was the nobles who stretched their waistbands because only they had a surfeit of food. Peasants were lean and starved. Gradually, as class distinctions began to give way, a stout shopkeeper might be ridiculed as a caricature of the new middle-class, but was still held in high esteem because in the group subsconscious, his girth was indicative of prosperity.
How society tries to shame overweight people
Obesity is not the same as being overweight. According to the World Health Organization, a person is considered overweight when his body mass index — BMI — is equal to or greater than 25. A person is considered obese when his BMI is equal to or greater than 30. So for an average 12-year old boy, who is pushing 5 feet tall, a weight of around 150 pounds would be considered obese.
At the academic level, scientists have debated whether or not obesity even qualifies as a disease. The majority of researchers who argue against, bring up lifestyle and poor choices as the main contributors to obesity. Again, this suggests that the obese individual is wholly responsible for his plight. However, as those who believe it is a disease point out, the medical community has accepted alcoholism and drug addiction as diseases. How is it that two conditions based on lifestyle and personal choices qualify as diseases but obesity does not?
In an article on the stigma of obesity, Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer discuss the ramifications of stigmatizing obese people as a means to promote weight loss. What the authors found is that not only is this a counterproductive method for weight loss; it actually accomplishes the opposite.
The study authors found there are more forces at work than just a appetite. Puhl and Heuer write, “Significant marketing and advertising of unhealthy, energy-dense foods by the food industry contribute to excessive food consumption in important ways, especially for children, who are heavily targeted.” Puhl and Heuer go on to write, “Public health efforts must address the multiple forces contributing to the development and maintenance of obesity and recognize that individual behaviors are powerfully shaped by the obesogenic environment.”
Combating the stigma attached to obesity
Childhood obesity is a serious issue affecting millions of children in this country. In addition to weight loss, an augmentation in the psychopathology of overweight troubled teens also needs to be made. Parents and clinicians could do well to be mindful of obesity as a mental health issue as well. Much like dual diagnosis with addiction and mental health disorders, the National Institute of Mental Health funded one case study which found, “Treatment with psychotropic medications may contribute to obesity in ways that are only partly understood. Although successful obesity treatment is associated with clear health benefits and available treatments offer benefit to some, relapse remains the rule.” Clinicians are beginning to support the idea lasting recovery from obesity needs to include a paradigm shift in mental health awareness.
Child psychologists recommend parents do the following if their child is overweight:
- provide 100 percent unwavering support in the form of affectionate love, affirming words and quality time together in physical activity
- set specific weight-loss goals with your child
- listen to your child’s concerns about his weight
- avoid patronizing your child with references to his weight
White River Academy is a residential boarding school located at the rim of the monumental Great Basin in Delta, Utah. White River focuses on treating young men with addiction and mental health disorders. We offer regimented, competitive and innovative curriculum as well as robust and challenging outdoor activities to set your son up for success in whichever path he chooses hereafter.