Is Fat the New Normal?

November 18, 2010

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ObesityA new study by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center that examined weight and body language had some surprising, and in some ways disturbing, results.

Some 2,000 Dallas-area study participants were shown images ranging from heavy to thin, and were asked to choose which they felt most closely matched their own body type as well as which they felt was most appealing. Researchers expected most to choose the “ideal weight” images – but were surprised to find that close to one in 10 people chose the photos that were on the plus side.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think people feeling good about themselves and accepting their bodies is a good thing. But when that acceptance includes being at a weight that increases their risk of serious long-term health problems, I think that goes beyond having a healthy body image and into denial.

So while two out of three American adults are overweight or obese and being heavy is in many ways “the new normal,” it’s important to keep in mind that there is a lot of good science that establishes obesity as being clearly unhealthy.

For starters, obesity has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, breathing problems, gallbladder disease, arthritis, certain cancers, and increased risks during pregnancy, and has been clearly linked to a reduced life expectancy, among other negatives.

Think of it as not unlike the time when smoking cigarettes was common and even fashionable. Just because “everyone else was doing it” didn’t change the fact that tobacco use may lead to lung cancer, emphysema, and other major health problems.

I do think it is important to remember that body weight and body mass index (BMI) only tell part of the story. Body fat is an equally important part of the equation. Super fit and muscular athletes, for example, can often register by weight and BMI alone as obese. However, I don’t think the subjects of this study were looking at images of body builders.

So while it’s true that in our society being overweight is quickly becoming more common than being at average body weight, that doesn’t mean that this is a healthy step forward for individuals or society. Our sedentary, fast food eating ways are not an advance!

Bottom line: There is nothing more valuable than good health. Being obese shortens one’s lifespan and can also lead to a greatly reduced quality of life, without a doubt.

So if you’ve been feeling like obesity “isn’t so bad” or that “everyone else is overweight, why should I worry about it?” think again. Just like tobacco use lead to cancer no matter how accepted it was, being obese will more likely than not lead to serious health consequences.

So while it’s important to remember that your weight doesn’t define who you are or your value, it can be dangerous nonetheless. You owe it to yourself and those you love to strive to be as healthy as you can.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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