THE BLOG

Is Obesity a Disease or a Plague?

10/02/2014 14:53 GMT | Updated 07/04/2014 10:59 BST

There were more rumblings in the news this week of how the government is going to tackle the growing obesity problem. Who truly believes that any health policy amendment or action the government may take will solve the nation's obesity problem? Certainly not once we identify and clearly establish for ourselves that being overweight is nothing more or less than a personal matter. It may be an epidemic but it's still an issue that will require personal accountability from each individual sufferer to overcome. Did any government in history ever solve just one of your personal problems?

Let's say, dandruff, for example or bad posture?

Of course they didn't. You had to change shampoo, or buy a better chair for your office, and make the personal effort to find the solution to your problem. You also had to pay for it and, if you didn't want dandruff to come back, continue paying for it. Fortunately, while dandruff is socially undesirable, it isn't terminal but poor posture leads to back pain and that is another huge pandemic that costs the country millions in lost work-hours.

The government has never been able to rectify this costly physical blight either. Why? Because just like being overweight, a bad back it is not an ailment that you can catch. It's not a bug or a virus so there can be no antibiotic or inoculation to cure or prevent these conditions. The most common cause of both back pain and being overweight is a lack of exercise. Back strain is mainly caused by sudden exertion of existing weak back muscles and a poorly supported spine. The injury causes impeded movement and so the back muscles continue to waste away further and what very often starts out as a fairly minor problem that should merely be a temporarily restrictive injury becomes an incapacitating chronic condition through exacerbation. The weakened back is then more susceptible to further injury and so the cycle is begun.

I do not use the bad back comparison randomly. The human skeletal structure is not engineered to grow enough to handle excessive increases in bodyweight. Just a small increase past our regular weight causes stress to the spine, hips, knees etc. Add to this the increased risk of heart attack, stroke or diabetes and excess weight cannot be considered safe or desirable no matter how vociferously or frequently certain select groups representing large people may claim it is 'okay' to be obese. Blaming the fashion industry for making every woman weight conscious, they make extreme comparisons between themselves and an unhealthy looking 'stick-thin' model in an attempt to disguise, unconsciously or not, what is merely confirmatory bias.

Clearly, anyone who abuses food or drink in such a way as to risk damage to their health or impair any of the physical or mental abilities needed for natural function, is guilty of gluttony.

Historically, in the last 40 years we have changed our food pyramid on a grand scale. Natural, farm fresh food has been replaced on a grand scale with highly processed and nutrient deficient, long shelf-life 'convenience' foods. The change has been fairly gradual and the human body is incredibly adaptive and forgiving-up to a point. We have long confused the body's tolerance of this nutritional abuse with acceptance but now it's time to pay back the debt. We are overfed and yet malnourished. This change then, is the central cause among a multitude of other issues that can and do influence and affect individual, and thus national, weight gain and ill health. Some problems, slowly seeping into our society are subtle. Some are not. Media influence can only be blamed up to a point for junk food consumption increases by idiotic sensationalism and temptation but eating is still a part of our culture. Our daily schedules are often planned around mealtimes, business people 'do lunch' as a way of making deals. We have drive-through fast food stops on the way to and from work and TV dinners and processed snacks waiting when we get home. All are available under the pretence that they are for our 'convenience' when really; in the long term they are anything but. The idea of a seated family meal being a shared experience is all but deceased with the increase of American style continuous food-consumption known as "snacking" or "grazing" Plus, added to the lack of accountability, most people still don't know explicitly what foods are bad for them. They do know however, that there is no overnight miracle effect from ceasing consumption of obvious 'junk foods', so the majority of our 'instant gratification' conditioned society just can't make the effort. Long term weight gain through poor lifestyle cannot be rectified in a few days. No one in their right mind knowingly performs acts that they recognise will give them back problems but millions of people young and old will eat what they know will make them fat and keep them fat. So it's not entirely ignorance with regard to what to eat that keeps people fat therefore no single panacea exists. The problem with the statistics and recommendations made by governmental sources is that they are mainly derived from research by the medical world-who sadly knows virtually nothing of value about nutrition and healthy body mass. They are not taught that stuff in medical school. Indeed it is neither desirable nor achievable to make us or our children conform to a BMI that is not very scientifically supported and has a very narrow margin of acceptability. Meanwhile, the flip side of the media creating panic over the obesity pandemic is that an erroneous message is transmitted to thin people. It strongly suggests to these individuals that by being thin they have no health worries when the reality is that thin people with a poor lifestyle are statistically found to be in poor health.

The truth is the huge void in the understanding of nutrition and health is an economic problem. This means fundamentally that the financially advantaged tend to be better educated on healthy eating and have more access to personal trainers and nutritionists to help them. However that does not mean that the resolve to follow a healthy diet and exercise plan can be bought and paid for-that's down to you and it always has been.

"Rarely do chronic conditions such as obesity spread with the speed and dispersion characteristics of a communicable disease epidemic."

(Journal of the American Medical association, 1999.)

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