Is There Really An Obesity Epidemic?
The phrase is found in all forms of media, political campaigns, popular literature, and now even peer-reviewed medical journals. But it doesn't make sense.
What is meant by this phrase? That more adults and children are now obese than several years ago, putting a greater amount of the population at risk for Type II Diabetes. However, the actual meaning of the phrase implies a fast-spreading communicable disease. The word epidemic brings to mind plagues of flu, smallpox, tuberculosis, and other dreadful diseases.
The error in the phrase, however, is that obesity isn't a communicable disease. It isn't catching. One cannot cough obesity molecules into the air towards unsuspecting thin people. Obesity isn't found disproportionately amongst the immuno-compromised population. Even if there were some such thing as an obesity gene, such an explanation for the increase in obese individuals would obviously be genetic, not epidemiologic.
I think this phrase stems from two fundamental publicity desires: 1) to establish a medically credible sound byte, and 2) to plant the seeds of fear. Once people are truly afraid of something, the thinking goes, then they'll do something about it. Here's the problem with Type II Diabetes: until you begin to suffer the consequences yourself, there's nothing particularly scary about it. Its survivors bear no scarred pockmarks, no visible sign of a ravaging illness. Yet it is a deadly disease in its own right.
The reality is that (usually) Type II Diabetes can be prevented. Type II Diabetes is considered a lifestyle disease, and health tips on how to prevent it abound across the internet. But it is quite absurd to consider a lifestyle disease as an epidemic. Epidemics cannot be prevented. Example: "The acne epidemic is running wild in the teenage set." No, one teenager cannot contract acne from being in the same airspace as an acne sufferer. Better example: "The bacterium Yersinia pestis wiped out half the population of Europe in the 14th century in an event known as the Black Death."
However, my objection to non-inflammatory phraseology should not be interpreted as a blind dismissal of the severity of the overall problem. Type II diabetes comes with its own set of very serious consequences, and all children and adults should be encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle. The short-term reward of eating indiscriminately and exercising negligibly should be weighed against the almost certain risk of future health concerns.
2/9/2011 01:47:30 am
Obesity has serious social and psychological consequences, that affect all age and socio-economic groups. Obesity is on the rise in our society because food is abundant and physical activity is optional. Making healthy diet and exercise choices is critical to treating and preventing obesity.
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