OBESITY

art is courtesy of Hans Neprud

 

In 1966 when I joined the Marine Corps at 17, I was about 5’9” and had a BMI (Body Mass Index) number of 19.9, weighing 135 lbs.  I wasn’t that far off from being considered underweight, which calculates at a BMI of less than 18.5.  For the next 15 plus years, following my marriage and raising two kids, I stayed within that normal BMI weight range, somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9.  Today, at 63, I weigh 220  at 5’ 10” with a BMI of 31.6.  A measurement that depressingly puts me into the category of obese, which is anything over 30.0.

Though it shouldn’t have, this information caught me off guard.  I knew I was overweight and I was consciously trying to lose it.  I’ve been eating right more than before and I walk about 2 miles religiously everyday – rain, snow or heat.  The result has been nearly a 20 lb. weight loss yet, as indicated above, I still fall within that “obese” range.  A recent Reuters article informs us that as a nation we are more fatter than was previously thought:

The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or “morbid” obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent. – SOURCE

I went to a site like this one and put in my own height/weight information to discover I was not merely overweight any more, but officially “obese”.  I and millions like me are succumbing to a disease that apparently is now worse than what smoking contributes to.  The irony here is perhaps not lost on many who, like myself, when you quit smoking, find other habits to compensate for the psychological “pleasure” loss that you had when inhaling large amounts of nicotine.  For most of us that translates into eating more.  I quit smoking in 1980 and within a couple of short years I was inching over that 24.9 BMI limit for normal weight.

At age ten, I was more anxious to gain weight than I was about losing it.

 

This weight increase is not only creating a poorer quality of health for me and others who hit the high BMI ranges, but it puts a burden on economic costs, negatively impacting our society by wasting resources that would be better spent on improving our quality of life.   The Reuters report I read with this information points out that this added weight not only increases health care costs for everyone, including those of normal weight, but greater amounts of fuel are required with all forms of transportation necessary to carry the heavier weight loads.  This is negatively impacting our need as a nation to reduce our need for foreign fuel sources which approximately 75% comes from.  The fact that our own supplies are limited doesn’t help either.

Here are some of the other relevant data pointed out in the article:

  • Employers can charge obese workers 30 percent to 50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in a qualified wellness program.
  • Compared to non-obese workers, obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year; the most obese women, 9.4 days more.
  • Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year
  • The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost of “presenteeism” due to obesity: $30 billion.
  • The obese are less likely to be hired and promoted than their svelte peers are.
  • Lower productivity on the job from obesity can result in reduced wages

It appears that the consequences of weight gain are so serious that action on a grand scale needs to take effect but can we force conditions on people to lose and monitor their weight without incurring the wrath of those who are already on the war path about “government over reach”?  Yet it seems necessary that people in positions of leadership will have to weigh this issue relevant to certain economic needs.  For example, allowing for broader girths, door sizes in public buildings will likely need to be widened as well as the seating in venues that accommodate large crowds like stadiums and concert halls.

One way we can deal with this disease is to recognize that it is indeed and illness that sheer will power alone cannot prevent.  Eating has become a substitute for many people to replace pleasure losses that used to come naturally as a result of family and financial stability, good health and personal achievements.

According to Dr. Nora Volkow, who is head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, eating disorders arise when we substitute food for those more healthy acts that release dopamine.

“Dopamine so happens to be one of the main chemicals regulating pleasure centers in the brain. And as such, it’s therefore the mechanism by which nature motivates our behavior.  At the most basic level, dopamine has saved us from extinction by making the key elements for survival of the species – food and sex – pleasurable. Dopamine sends signals to receptors in the brain saying: this feels good.

It just basically stimulates release of dopamine. And the more they release, the more they want the food. We always say, “Well, why do we have a problem with obesity in our society?” And I said, “My God, we’re surrounded by stimuli with which we’re conditioned. If you like hamburgers you may see that McDonald’s yellow arches and then dopamine goes inside your brain and you want it.  And you don’t know why you want it.”     SOURCE 

Some entrepreneurial practices in this country may be detrimental to our own self-interests

 

As stress is introduced into our lives the dopamine rush we used get from happiness events like playing team sports, youthful romances and getting our first car becomes weakened as we assimilate into a 5-day work week, the less romantic give and take of marriage, especially with kids, and the financial responsibility incumbent upon  us to maintain a home and be a good provider for our family.

The natural pleasure we derive from eating was part of that lifestyle that kept us alive and active as we hunted or grew our own food, provided shelter we built ourselves and traveled by means that didn’t come with a combustible engine; rewarding activities capable of generating a supply of dopamine to the system.  With today’s abundant free time and easy access to today’s processed food with its more addictive ingredients, food becomes an easy and unhealthy source for dopamine rushes.  Combine this with a lifestyle where we no longer expend any quantifiable energy to go from point A to point B thanks to the automobile and where outdoor activities are replaced by video games and on-line social interaction, then it becomes apparent why obesity has become the number one health threat to us all.

Elders like myself lose the energy necessary to engage in those activities that generate a release of “feel good” dopamine.  Unless we are among those late in life with a healthy metabolism rate that prevents fat build-up in our bodies we are subject to faster weight gain not only from a lack of physical activity but from the wrong kind and amounts of foods.  Eating is one of the few things left we are still capable of doing to elicit a shot of dopamine from the brain.

But unlike a young friend of mine I work with at the catering service, weight is less a concern for me relative to my looks.  I’m more focused on health considerations; staying healthy and avoiding costly medical expenses that could put my wife and I in a serious financial bind.  With Renee, however, age 25, her biggest concern is how her obesity affects her self-esteem.

Like me, Renee struggles with her weight

 

“My obesity has caused depression about myself, and thus had an affect on my relationships with my husband, family, and friends”,  she tells me.   For the last 2 or so years since I reached “obese” on the scale, I have found that it has effected my self esteem most. I have told myself I’m concerned about my health, but when it boils down to it, I’m more concerned about how ‘fat’ i look in my clothes, in the mirror, etc.  But I do believe this is a common problem among women-which is a whole other topic in itself.”

Recently Renee discovered that a close family relative on her Mom’s side had been diagnosed with diabetes.  “This makes for four people who have or have had diabetes on that side of the family. So, my new concern is developing into a worry for my future. I would not only like to feel better about myself, but I am ready to begin a healthier lifestyle that will keep me away from further disease”.  

Though Renee is obviously an adult, researchers have recently found that childhood diabetes , a condition of obesity, is on the rise in this country and the experts say when the weight goes on too early in life, it is that much harder to get it off and keep it off.

Each year, more than 3,600 American kids are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition once reserved for overweight adults. And in half of those kids, traditional treatments don’t work, a new study found.

 

The fact that kids are developing early stages of obesity tells us that they too are using food to replace that dopamine shot lost as a result of unstable family situations.  Over the last 30 years as the income disparity in this country has grown with stagnant or even decreased wages, more families today are experiencing economic conditions that get negatively played out at home.  Children also seem to be experiencing an increase in threats from bullies and predatory pedophiles, all of which makes them more conducive to excessive and unhealthy eating.

  

Then and Now:  In 1980 I was still within a normal weight BMI.  Today bad eating habits have taken their toll.

The added pressures we all face today, adults and children alike, along with a more sedentary lifestyle makes us the most susceptible generation to kill ourselves off with an unhealthy oral gratification to satisfy a natural urge intended to keep us alive.

I’m not advocating governmental policies that restrict our choices of what to eat.  But it only seems practical that we should be able to rely on government agencies who gather relevant data and distribute it to the public in a vigorous manner so we can make sound, healthy choices.  Such information should compete with the private sectors marketing techniques and timing that encourages bad diets or behavior.

I’m sure there will an uproar by many businesses and their corporate-friendly cronies in local, state and federal legislatures who will bemoan the fact that this will hurt profits.  But it should be the purpose of a representative government to enable all constituencies.  Not just those who are more capable of filling campaign coffers each election cycle.  In the true spirit of capitalism, entrepreneurs should be doing what helps their self-interests in ways that consumers see them as being helpful to them at least as much as they are to their investors.

It seems clear though that even if our government sought ways to reduce these risks on our behalf it would most likely fail unless each of us come to grips with why we eat in excess of what we need.  We somehow need to find a way to circumvent the ease of using food to generate a state of pleasure we derive for doing those things that serve to sustain us.  Unless we do, more and more of us will depart this world sooner than we should from our obesity.  The only thing we can hope for if we don’t is that we die long before we incur a huge medical bill that our families will be left to deal with.

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16 responses to “OBESITY

  1. First of all, I don’t think you look obese; secondly, Renee is adorable. But I do agree the health issues are enormous. Each spring my husband drops his 25 pounds. why? umpiring and golf and that lasts until the winter when he doesn’t have those activities even though he still walks about 2 miles at lunchtime. And I get my winter five back too even though I go to the gym and do yoga at least three times per week. We mostly eat right with his exception of a cheesesteak once in a while and my yen for sweets. I think it gets harder as we age but the health benefits of staying svelte are too many to overlook. Obviously, teaching people the health benefits is not enough as the obesity rates keep going up or could it be that the word obese is overused? I think they should have a medical interim word between thin and obese like zaftig or plump or something like that. If you tell people they are obese for 10 pounds overweight they might just give up entirely.

    • “First of all, I don’t think you look obese; secondly, Renee is adorable.”

      Thanks Donna. Yes, Renee is adorable and a joy to work with, as is all of her family who I have come to know since working for them at the catering service. Renee has a beautiful soprano voice too that we hear around the kitchen from time to time and I would like to see her do something more substantial with it. We all keep encouraging her.

      I agree that the photo of me doesn’t make me look obese but the loose clothes conceal a lot. When compared to others I may not appear to be of the “obese” category, but based on the BMI scale, I am there.

      “I think they should have a medical interim word between thin and obese like zaftig or plump or something like that.”

      Something with more zing would be to add the letters OMG before the word “plump” and WTF before the word “obese”. It may be offensive to some but the intent is to get us to see ourselves in ways that motivate us to act and change those habits that put us there.

  2. I work in the Department of Health and Welfare and it’s astonishing how many obese people I see throughout the day. And rarely, rarely, do any of them take the stairs. I’ve seen healthcare professionals who are obese – nurses, doctors, and so on. It’s an epidemic that this country seems to be ignoring.

    BMI is a lousy indicator for determining obesity and it’s time for a new definition. The more important, significant indicators are to get your blood pressure checked regularly and to know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

    Being overweight and obese seems to have become the norm, which is frightening. Health care costs are out of control now, but with a new generation of overweight and obese kids on the way, costs will be the ruin of this country. Absolutely the government – public health agencies as well – need to be in the forefront of forcing the food industry to lower sodium and fat contents in food. Forcing them – because it won’t happen voluntarily.

    • “BMI is a lousy indicator for determining obesity and it’s time for a new definition.”

      I agree Jean but many experts thinks it serves as an easy and quick reference to begin with and point people in the right direction. Those same experts say that the BMI is also not very useful for children. From the WebMD site:

      “”I think BMI is a very good and easy screening tool,” says obesity expert, Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

      But while it is a simple, inexpensive method of screening for weight categories, it is not a diagnostic tool. Health professionals need to do further assessments to fully evaluate health risks. These assessments would include measurements of body fat percentage, diet history, exercise patterns, and family history.”

      ” work in the Department of Health and Welfare and it’s astonishing how many obese people I see throughout the day.”

      Yes, down here in southern deep fried country my observations see at least half of the population falling into the “obese” category with many of those being “morbidly” obese.

  3. Great post; outstanding artwork 🙂 Sadly, Americans are getting fatter and fatter, and are suffering health-wise as a result. But there is hope. With a massive (or even moderate) life-style change, one can lose weight and feel better, even for those of us over 60.

  4. Larry! You don’t look in the least bit fat. Go a little easier on yourself!

    But the country? It’s just awful – read a story the other day about the explosion in childhood diabetes. And we know what’s causing that.

    • Thanks Moe but it’s not so much how fat I look but that I am about 50 lbs over what’s considered normal weight for my height. That’s a lot and it impacts my general health, preventing me from doing more of what I like to do. Right now I get so fatigued easily that I am usually not up to getting out much and seeing things and meeting more people.

      • I empathize with that Larry . . . last year I felt the same and lost 30 lbs, something I’d been needing to do for five years. It took about 8 months and so far so good. But man oh man, did it make a difference! Every little physical pesky thing got better.

        What I did was stop eating any and all white food – and absolutely no processed food. Except orange sherbert, to which I am addicted and consume in great quantities.

  5. I agree with those who suggest BMI formula are too strict. The term “obese” should be limited to people seriously overweight. I applaud your honest self-assessment. I hope you can drop however many lbs you want and regain whatever energy you’ve lost.

  6. I was overweight in junior high (though by today’s standards it would be closer to average) and thus have been always fluctuating in a 30 pound range. Now I’m near the high end, and have resigned myself to losing and gaining, losing and gaining…but that keeps my high end from expanding every higher, so I accept it. Maybe someday I’ll stay at my preferred ‘playing weight.’ Yet the core point is really true – obesity is becoming a problem more and more, especially among young people. My two sons already show a penchant for wanting the cheap and fattening foods (they are 6 and 9) and it’s more of a struggle now to instill healthy eating habits than it was in the past. The amount of chemicals and the engineering of foods by major corporations to get us addicted to unhealthy eating (and then to supersize it!) is hypnotic. People are surrounded by both messages and easily accessible that “everyone is eating.” I’m not sure what the solution is but yours makes sense.

    Back in the 90s they passed the labeling law that required calorie and fat content to be put on all products. There were these donuts I used to get — a pack of six — that were delicious. I’d get them home and eat three donuts, and often the six would barely last to the next morning. When they got labeled I saw that ONE donut had 540 calories (I had been figuring about 250). I never bought them again. Ever.

    • “There were these donuts I used to get — a pack of six — that were delicious. “

      Those powdered donuts, right? I loved those and at least once a week would grab a pack and consume them all with my morning coffee on the way to work. I had to sweep the sugar powder out of my lap when I’d get out of truck from them flaking as I ate them.

  7. Excellent article that covers damn near all the bases. I’ll try to “plump up” one of the angles. 😉

    Obesity has essentially become a self sustaining industry. Aside from a lack of healthy habits, proper health education and good parenting, obesity is the result of short sighted, anti-social (nay, sociopathic) profit seeking behaviours. Sadly, it’s existence provokes more of the same in response.

    1) Unhealthy, addictive, shit like corn (which leads to cheap corn syrup and cheaper, fatter, animals) is heavily subsidized. Meanwhile, the only subsidy for fresh veggies is the fact that farmers can hire “discount” workers who are totally expendable.

    2) Instead of preparing and eating actual meals yourselves from raw ingredients as we once did, food is now a finished factory product we have no control over. Fast food, junk food and pre-cooked meals are cranked out by mega-corporations intentionally seeking to emphasize the unhealthiest components of their product (sugar, fat, salt) They do this because they know it’s cheaper and more profitable. We are hard wired to crave these things. A simple look at a McD’s nutritional “build a meal” website I took a couple of years ago showed me it was impossible to build a McMeal that didn’t approach, or exceed, the DAILY recommended amount of sugar, fat, salt, calories, or all of the above.

    3) The more of it we consume, the more we grow accustomed to it and the stronger the dose we need to reach the same high. It’s at the point where, even if they wanted to, the food industry can’t afford to become healthy. Healthy food is a risky niche market. Instead, the junk peddlers offer “healthy options”. (Keyword: OPTION.) It’s the classic case of the Devil on one shoulder and the Angel on the other. We all know who wins that battle. But it also cleverly puts the blame right back on the eater. “You came into our food brothel and, at the last moment, fell to temptation. It’s not OUR fault YOU’RE weak!”

    Once obesity status has been reached, cue the expensive and lucrative industry set up to exploit the fatties.

    1) There’s the diet & exercise industry. Its success rate makes the Democrats look like perennial winners.
    2) There’s the douches getting rich by investing in pills and insulin stocks.
    3) Then there’s the “unbroken circle” option. Companies, politicos and a general culture that acts as enablers. “Give it up fatso. Have another triple cheeseburger and at least enjoy the downward spiral to a flat-line.

    .

    • Thanks for that comprehensive “plumping” Sedate. I agree fully.

      The fact that food is so accessible in developed countries too makes it an addictive force for many who would otherwise find some other psychological release to address the issue that caused the addiction. It really isn’t always the food itself and its additives that keeps people eating beyond normal healthy limits but serves as a behavior to displace something else in their life they can’t seem to confront.

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