Obesity. Is it an eating disorder?
Like most things, obesity is a complex phenomenon about which it is dangerous to generalize. What is true for one person is not necessarily true for the next. Nevertheless, we shall try to make sense out of conflicting theories and give answers to people who struggle to maintain self-esteem in a world that seems to be obsessed with youth, thinness, and the perfect body — whatever that may be.
|A person with anorexia nervosa may define obesity as a weight gain of five pounds, from 89 to 94. A grandmother past menopause may call herself obese because she carries 165 pounds on her large-boned, muscular body. A modeling agency may talk about obesity when one of the women on the payroll puts 135 pounds on her 5’10” body.|
|None of these women is clinically obese. The anorexic and the model are underweight.|
Men are split in their personal definitions of obesity. Many are just as concerned about overweight as women are, while others, frankly rotund, believe they are just fine, perfectly healthy, and universally attractive to potential romantic partners.
Physicians consider a person to obese if s/he weighs more than 20% above expected weight for age, height, and body build. Morbid or malignant obesity is weight in excess of 100 pounds above that expected for age, height, and build.
In recent years, the definition of expected, or healthy, weight has expanded to include more pounds per height in view of research that links reduced mortality (longer lives) with more weight than is currently considered fashionable.
A 1999 study reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that sixty-one percent of adults in the U.S. are overweight. A breakdown of that figure shows that thirty-five percent are slightly or moderately overweight, and that twenty-six percent are obese or grossly overweight. In addition, about thirteen percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese.
Another government study published in October, 2002 indicates that thirty-one percent of the American public is obese. It further suggested that fifteen percent of young people between 6 and 19 are seriously overweight. Even ten percent of toddlers between 2 and 5 are seriously overweight. The study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (10/9/02).
A more recent study indicates that about 31 percent of American teenage girls and 28 percent of boys are somewhat overweight. An additional 15 percent of American teen girls and nearly 14 percent of teen boys are obese. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, January 2004) Causes include fast food, snacks with high sugar and fat content, use of automobiles, increased time spent in front of TV sets and computers, and a generally more sedentary lifestyles than slimmer peers.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing in all major socioeconomic and ethnic groups, including children and younger adults between 25 and 44. (David Sacher, U.S. Surgeon General, December 2001)
Obese people do not seem to have any more psychological problems, or more serious psychological problems, than folks of normal weight. The problems they do have are more likely a consequence of prejudice and discrimination than a cause of overweight. In fact, several studies have suggested that the obese are significantly less anxious and depressed than normal-weight peers.