Weight and Society

While one-third of the children in developing countries is undernourished and underweight, the same ratio of children in the United States is either overweight, or obese. Weight is becoming a major problem for the developed counties. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has more than doubled worldwide since 1980.

In 2008, more than 1.5 billion adults were overweight and 500, 000 of them were obese. By 2010, 43 million children under five were overweight. Statistically, obesity is more deadly than being underweight, as medical complications provoked by excessive weight kill more people than hunger. In medical terms, a person with a Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 25 is overweight and with a BMI over 30 is obese. Obesity causes cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, diabetes and osteoarthritis and may induce certain types of cancer, including endometrial and breast cancer.

The physical consequences of being overweight may be very serious but actually what bothers most overweight people are the social implications. Despite the fact that obesity is a mass problem, society still shuns and makes fun of these people. The insults and ridicule that children are exposed to by their peers may have even more serious consequences, especially for their psychology and self-esteem. Many people are aware of "fat discrimination" but not enough active measures have been taken to prevent it.

In the 20th century, being plump was considered a sign of well-being and wealth. Women like Marilyn Monroe were generally considered to be bigger than 21st century models and actresses, although back in the 1950s Monroe was a beauty queen. At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, the image of "skinny" women was established as a norm and overweight women were regarded as outsiders.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that overweight women have 10 percent more poverty rates and USD 6, 710 less income than other women on average; and for overweight men the average income was USD 2, 876 lower than average. Researchers noted that obese individuals married more rarely too. The researchers have summarized their findings claiming that obesity is the primary obstacle keeping people from finding a job.

Numerous surveys on children's attitude toward overweight children have shown that obesity is a major setback for children. In one study in the 1960s, a group of schoolchildren were presented with six different drawings of children with various physical disadvantages, such as having one arm or being in a wheelchair, and were asked which of the pictures they would like to make friends with. All the children unanimously disliked the obese child the most. Forty years later, the research was repeated and the results were not only confirmed but a higher level of dislike for obesity was registered.

In other research, children were asked to attribute personal qualities to different overweight children and they were all rated negatively as being ugly, dirty, lazy, evil and stupid. Experts have discovered that negative attitudes toward obese people is formed even in three-year-old preschoolers. The most alarming results came from a survey, described by William Wright in his work Born That Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality (1998). A group of young couples were asked to decide whether they would abort a fetus if they knew that it had a 50-50 chance of becoming obese. Shockingly, nearly 70 percent said that they would.

Psychologists claim that cruelty to overweight children cannot typically motivate them to lose weight. On the contrary, they may plunge into depression, which in turn can make them eat more and exercise less because every time they are engaged in a physical activity, they are mocked at for their bodies. Moreover, they may be inclined to become aggressive and turn into bullies themselves.

The obsession with weight results in increased numbers of people suffering from eating disorders. According to one study by researchers in the United States, 20 percent of women experienced eating disorders in 2010 and 90 percent of them were aged from 12 to 25. A young woman suffering from anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women of the same age. In a college campus study in 1995, more than 90 percent of the women questioned said they had attempted to control their weight and over one-fifth of all the female students claimed they were dieting often or always.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies
Kelly D. Brownell; Rebecca M. Puhl; Marlene B. Schwartz; Leslie Rudd.
Guilford Press, 2005
The Fat Studies Reader
Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay.
New York University Press, 2009
Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic
J. Eric Oliver.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook
Christopher G. Fairburn; Kelly D. Brownell.
Guilford Press, 2005 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Psychological and Social Factors, Dieting, and Body Image" begins on p. 73
Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful
Daniel S. Hamermesh.
Princeton University Press, 2011
Our Overweight Children: What Parents, Schools, and Communities Can Do to Control the Fatness Epidemic
Sharron Dalton.
University of California Press, 2004
The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology
Michael Gard; Jan Wright.
Routledge, 2005
Understanding Childhood Obesity
J. Clinton Smith.
University Press of Mississippi, 1999
Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression
Jana Evans Braziel; Kathleen Le Besco.
University of California Press, 2001
The Overweight Patient: A Psychological Approach to Understanding and Working with Obesity
Kathy Leach.
Jessica Kingsley, 2006
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