More Than a Third of American Women Are Obese


Most Americans could afford to lose a few pounds, according to a new study that looked at overweight and obesity rates in the United States. What’s more, there are now more obese women in this country than overweight women.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked at data from a nationally representative group of 15,208 people that were 25 or older between 2007 and 2012. They found that during this time, 40% of men in the group were overweight and 35% were obese. In women, 30% were overweight and 37% were obese.

The study defined “overweight” as having a body-mass index of over 25 and “obesity” as a body-mass index of over 30.

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“Our estimates are very close to [the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s] estimates, and there is clearly not a trend of decline on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States,” study co-author Lin Yang, a postdoc researcher at the Division of Public Health Sciences in the Department of Surgery told Time.

The study authors warn that overweight and obesity is associated with various chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. As Yang told Time: It will take “individual, health professional, community, environment and policy engagement to address this epidemic as a whole.”


Teens Who Stay Up Late May Gain More Weight Over Time

FRIDAY, Oct. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Teens may have a new reason to take their parents’ advice and go to bed early. Staying up late on weeknights may increase a teen’s risk of becoming overweight over time, a new study says.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 3,300 American teens and found that each extra hour of late bedtime was associated with a more than two-point increase in body mass index (BMI). BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.

The link between late bedtimes and BMI increase was not significantly affected by total sleep time, amount of exercise, or time spent in front of computers or televisions, the investigators found.

“The results are important because they highlight adolescent bedtimes, not just total sleep time, as a potential target for weight management concurrently and in the transition to adulthood,” first author Lauren Asarnow, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The study, published in the October issue of the journal Sleep, doesn’t prove that night owls are destined to be overweight, however. The findings only show an association between bedtime and weight, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

Teens need a little more than nine hours of sleep a night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more about teens and sleep.

Excess Weight Has 'Unexpected' Effect on Puberty Onset in Boys

By Dennis ThompsonHealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 27, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Excess weight can delay or speed up puberty in young boys, depending on how many extra pounds they carry, a new study suggests.

Overweight boys tend to enter and finish puberty somewhat earlier than usual, researchers found in a study of nearly 3,900 males aged 6 to 16.

But boys who have become obese appear to go through puberty slower than boys who weigh less, according to study results published Jan. 27 in the journal Pediatrics.

“We found something we didn’t expect, which is obese boys go later but overweight boys seem to go earlier,” said study author Dr. Joyce Lee, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. “You would expect a linear relationship between weight and the timing of puberty, but we found that isn’t the case.”

The female hormone estrogen is a suspected cause for these shifts in the timing of male puberty, Lee said.

Fat cells produce aromatase—the enzyme that synthesizes estrogen from other sex hormones. “When you have excess fat in the body, you have excess estrogen production in the body,” Lee said.

Previous studies have shown that overweight and obese girls tend to go through puberty earlier than girls of a normal weight, with the excess estrogen spurring their development, the study authors said in background notes.

Given those earlier findings, the researchers thought that overweight and obese boys would experience a delay in puberty thanks to the extra estrogen in their bodies, Lee said.

To test this, researchers followed 3,872 boys as they grew up, tracking the onset of puberty by measuring body changes related to the process of sexual maturation.

The boys were judged as overweight or obese based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese boys had a body-mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) that placed them in the heaviest 5 percent of all boys their age, while boys judged overweight had a BMI that placed them in the 85th to 95th percentile of males their age.

White and black boys who were overweight tended to enter into puberty at a slightly earlier age, the researchers found. For example, overweight white boys entered the first stages of puberty at 9.3 years old, compared with 10 years old for normal weight boys.

Overweight white boys also completed puberty sooner, at 14.5 years old compared with 15.2 years old for normal weight boys.

But obese black and white boys completed puberty months later than normal weight or overweight boys, the researchers found. For example, obese black boys completed puberty at 15.4 years old, compared with 14.5 years old for normal weight boys.

The delay in puberty for obese boys makes sense, if estrogen is influencing their development as it does that of girls, Lee said. The presence of the female hormone could slow puberty.

But the results for overweight boys puzzled the researchers, Lee admitted.

“For overweight boys, maybe excess estrogen somehow stimulates development, but when you get to higher levels maybe it slows the process,” she said.

Parents of overweight or obese boys should not be overly concerned by these findings, since all of the boys’ development occurred within the normal age range for puberty, Lee noted.

Obesity researcher Dr. Steven Heymsfield agreed that parents shouldn’t be worried about the effect that excess weight might have on their boys’ sexual development.

“It looked to me like we were only talking about mean differences of less than a year,” said Heymsfield, a professor at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “It’s just a very slight displacement. It’s not like the obese boys started at 20 instead of 12.”

Heymsfield also noted that this relationship between weight and the timing of puberty did not bear out for Hispanic boys in the study. Black and white boys also seemed to vary in the extent to which excess weight affected their sexual development, although they followed the same general trend.

“There’s clearly some kind of a race difference going on,” he said.

Rather than worrying about puberty, Heymsfield said parents should be more worried about the lifelong bad influence that childhood obesity can have on their children’s health.

For example, autopsies of obese children have revealed hardening of the arteries in kids as young as 12, he said.

“We know that adult chronic diseases begin in childhood,” Heymsfield said. “You definitely are pushing the envelope when you are obese as a child.”

More information

The American Heart Association has tips for preventing childhood obesity.

How Weight Loss Surgery May Affect Your Marriage

FRIDAY, Jan. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Married people shed fewer pounds than singles after weight-loss surgery, and some marriages deteriorate after the operation, researchers report.

The Ohio State University research team based the findings on a review of 13 studies of weight-loss surgery that were published between 1990 and 2014.

“Food is so central to family routines and celebrations, and when you undergo a surgery that so vastly impacts your ability to eat as you did before, family members take notice,” review leader Megan Ferriby said in a university news release. Ferriby is a graduate student in human sciences.

Four of six studies that focused on marriage found that married weight-loss surgery patients lost less weight than single patients. One study found that married patients were 2.6 times less likely to have reached their target weight a year after surgery. Another study found that single patients were 2.7 times more likely to stick with their diet and exercise goals after the surgery.

None of the six studies found that married patients lost more weight than single patients, Ferriby and colleagues said in the news release.

The 10 studies that examined relationship quality after weight-loss surgery found that some marriages ran into trouble after the procedure. However, three studies found that weight-loss surgery led to more sex and more enjoyment of sex, the researchers reported.

About two-thirds of people who seek weight-loss surgery are married, the researchers said in background notes.

These findings suggest that spouses and other family members should be included in discussions before and after weight-loss surgery to improve patients’ chances of achieving their weight target.

The findings were published recently in the journal Obesity Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about weight-loss surgery.


Fat shaming doesn’t just hurt a person’s self-esteem. Studies show it can take a real toll on physical health too. And according to a new review of research presented this week the American Psychological Association annual convention, doctors are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to making people feel ashamed of the number on the scale. 

That statement may come as a surprise if you think of fat-shaming as mainly something that happens in social situations or over the Internet—or something that women do to themselves. But it definitely resonates with those who’ve experienced it firsthand.

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According to the review, this type of “medical fat shaming” can come in the form of disrespectful treatment, lectures about your weight, embarrassing comments, and a less thorough examination. Even well-meaning physicians, if they don’t approach the topic carefully, can ruin a patient’s experience at the doctor’s office—and potentially inflict long-term damage to their well being.

“Studies show that the most common source of fat shaming is family members, and after family comes doctors,” says Joan Chrisler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, who presented the review at the conference. “I find that kind of upsetting, because these are the people who should have your best interests at heart, and instead they’re making you feel the worst.”

Doctors need to be aware of this tendency for bias, says Chrisler, and should be making efforts to stop such behaviors in their offices. They may think that fat patients don’t know what’s best for them and need to be protected from their unhealthy behaviors, she says. “But really, most fat people know they’re fat—they don’t need to be told when they come in for a sore throat or a broken arm,” adds Chrisler.

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Practices like weighing patients at every visit (especially in open areas where other people can see the number on the scale) can also make people hesitant to visit the doctor, says Chrisler, even when the have a problem unrelated to their weight. “They’re not going to want to come back for a follow-up visit after that,” she says, “and that could be seriously hurting their health.”  

The medical community does a disservice to larger patients in other ways, says Chrisler. Overweight people are often excluded from clinical trials, which means that recommended medication doses might not be appropriate for them. Some studies have suggested this to be the case for certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs.

Other studies suggest that medical professionals tend to make assumptions about overweight people’s health and motivations. This means they might not take patients’ symptoms as seriously, and could miss or misdiagnose serious but treatable conditions. In one study of more than 300 autopsy reports, obese patients were 1.65 times more likely than others to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions, including bowel disease and lung cancer.

Chrisler says that patients need to stand up for themselves and object when they feel their doctor is unfairly or inappropriately calling out their weight. “They can also change doctors if they have a physician who is treating them disrespectfully,” she says.

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She encourages patients to tell their doctors about the Health at Every Size movement, which advocates for compassionate self care, respect, and healthy behaviors for all people, no matter what their weight. She also recommends referring physicians to her 2016 article in the journal Fat Studies, “Sizeism Is a Health Hazard.”

And while sometimes it is appropriate for doctors to discuss weight and recommend weight loss to patients, Chrisler stresses that there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it.

“We know that dieting usually fails and we know that making people feel bad about their weight is not the way to go,” she says. “People should be focused on trying to eat a nutritious diet, being more physically active, getting enough sleep, things like that—not focused on what the scale says.”

School May Be Out, but Kids Still Need Summer Nutrition Lessons

When I was a kid (a chubby one at that), summertime was when I normally lost a few pounds through increased daily activities—riding my bike to the public beach, swimming and goofing around all day, then riding my bike home for dinner. Even though my lunch money was typically spent on ice cream sandwiches and soft-serve, the amount of time I spent being active during the day was enough to enable me to slim down before September.

Today, however, thanks to open kitchen pantries and too much TV time (not to mention cheese fries, as the New York Times suggested this week), many kindergarten and elementary school children—at critical points in their lives for optimizing body weight—are actually packing on pounds during summer vacation.

In a 2007 study, researchers at Ohio State and Indiana universities analyzed the body fat of more than 5,000 kindergarten and first graders in schools across the country. Body mass index (BMI) measures were taken for these children throughout the academic year. From these data, the researchers compared BMI changes over the nine-month school year versus with changes during the three-month summer vacation.

The results? During summer vacation, the average BMI increased more than twice as fast as during the school year.

Summer has turned into a vacation from healthy eating, and children are getting plenty of “screen time” but not enough playtime to compensate for warm weather faves such as ice cream and lemonade. They also have a tendency to snack more due to the irregular meal patterns that often occur during summer break.

School may be out, but now is the time to enroll your child in the summer session of healthy eating. Here’s what you can do.

Keep kids on an eating and snacking schedule: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. This helps them feel signs of hunger and stops mindless munching between meals. Make the kitchen off-limits unless it’s time for a meal or a planned snack. (This one is good advice for everyone in the family to follow!)

Plan family vacations that focus on physical activity rather than just relaxation. Consider an active getaway with lots of swimming, cycling, or hiking.

Enroll your children in organized sports camps for swimming, soccer, or tennis. Most community centers offer some type of youth sports programs.

Limit “screen time” to no more than one to two hours a day—that includes both the computer and TV.

Make summer’s perfect produce the centerpiece of your meals. Visit a farmers market with your children and prepare meals together using fresh, wholesome ingredients. Better yet, designate a section of your yard as a place where your child can plant his or her own vegetables. Then let your child harvest the veggies and help decide how to eat them.

Limit calorie-rich juices, sodas, and other liquids. To keep kids hydrated in the heat, give them plenty of water and help them avoid sugary beverages that have no effect on satiety.

By Julie Upton, RD


News Roundup: Not

Does this British statistic make me look skinny?Apparently it’s not just Americans who are clueless about their own weight. In 2007, just over half, or 53%, of the UK population had a body mass index in the overweight to obese range. But only 75% of those people realized they were overweight. That’s worse than in 1999, when 43% of Brits were overweight and 81% realized they were. Researchers at the University College London told BBC News that part of the problem is that as more and more people tip into the overweight category, the perception of what’s “normal” changes. Or it might be the media’s fault. Articles about overweight people tend to include photos of the extremely obese, which may lead the slightly chubby to conclude they’re doing just fine.

Gas prices: Pay more, live longer Turns out there may be a silver lining in four-bucks-a-gallon gas. University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers are predicting a significant drop in auto-related deaths because of fewer drivers on the road and a general tendency to drive slower. The analysis of historical data suggests that auto-related deaths drop 2.3% for every 10% increase in the price of gas. For drivers aged 15–17, there’s a 6% drop in deaths, according to the Associated Press. With roughly 40,000 auto-related deaths in the U.S. each year, the researchers think higher prices could save 1,000 lives a month, or 12,000 annually. Great—now, where’s the silver lining for higher-priced grocery bills, utility bills, and just about everything else?

Laser show permanently blinds Russian raversAn all-night rave party north of Moscow went horribly wrong when a powerful laser that normally points up into the sky caused retinal burns and partial vision loss in at least 12 attendees. Due to heavy rains, organizers erected tents over the Aquamarine Open Air Festival in Kirzhach, which caused some of the laser light to refract into the ravers’ eyes. Focused laser light can damage eyes almost instantly; a Moscow laser-rental company told Reuters that the incident was caused by “illiteracy on the part of technicians.”

Warning: Kidney stone epidemic aheadGlobal warming has been implicated in the spread of a variety of health woes, from tropical diseases to shellfish poisoning. Now University of Texas researchers are predicting that a hail of kidney stones may rain down on our collective urinary tracts. Why? Extra-hot days cause dehydration, which promotes the crystals that form the excruciating little rocks, according to the study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. There’s already a vast “kidney-stone belt” running across the southeastern U.S., which the researchers predict will expand into the upper Midwest as the planet heats up, possibly by as much as 30% in some areas.

Your computer can hear you sneezeIt’s not as if computer science has solved the problem of complex speech recognition, but as New Scientist reports, researchers in computer science and biomechanics in the UK have already moved on to “nonlinguistic” sounds: laughs, sobs, yawns, and, yes, sneezes. (No word yet on burps and farts.) A computer sorts through the noises and translates them into matching facial animation sequences. The technology will come in handy in creating life-like computer avatars and animated cartoons. Could this be another step in the evolution of the personal computer into virtual nurse, nanny, and on-the-go-diagnostician?

Japanese take us one step closer to designer genesJapanese researchers have sewn “DNA thread” using highly focused laser beams that stretch out the DNA, attach it to tiny hooks, and even thread it around tiny spools known as microbobbins. The diminutive tailoring job is an effort to counteract DNA’s tendency to tightly coil into a structure called the chromosome, and instead, to expose the genetic code to the kind of probes used to detect chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome.


News Roundup: Maggots Fight Superbugs, Runners Age Better, and More

In the long run, running lengthens lifespanAfraid your middle-aged runs are more likely to lead to a hip replacement than health? Don’t be. A new study suggests that runners over 50 tend to survive longer and are less likely than their peers to become disabled in their 60s and 70s. The beneficial effects of exercise last until age 80 and presumably beyond, according to Stanford University researchers. (It was a 21-year study, so most runners haven’t been followed beyond their early 80s.) The exercisers had health benefits that lasted even after they stopped pounding the pavement, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine report. The study doesn’t say how much running is needed, but it compared members of the 50+ Runners Association with nonmembers, and running declined with time (from 4 hours to 76 minutes per week). However, a few midlife 10Ks aren’t the equivalent of the fountain of youth: Even when the runners were no longer running as much, they were still more physically active than their more sedentary counterparts.

Maggots: Duking it out with that staph superbugMedieval as it sounds, live maggots are still commonly used to clean out infections in human wounds. Now researchers at Swansea University in Wales are using the larvae to combat some of the most dangerous germs in the world. It seems that green bottle-fly maggots secrete a substance that can fight 12 different strains of MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph superbug that’s increasingly the scourge of hospitals, schools, and gyms. It takes about 20 maggots to make one drop of Seraticin, the trademarked antibiotic. The ultimate goal is to mass-produce the compound, test it on human cells and in clinical trials, and market it as an injection, pill, or ointment. Here’s researcher Norman Ratcliffe—with some of his slithery pals—describing his team’s work.

Is Wall-E right about our fat future?The Pixar flick’s satirical take on a future in which people have evolved into a race of overweight babies has the sting of plausibility. Government-funded researchers writing in the journal Obesity say that if recent trends hold up, 86.3% of adults in the United States will be overweight by 2030, and all adults will be by 2048. (Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight today.)  Sure, it’s unlikely that the entire country will bulk up, but the study is intended “as a wake-up call to show what could happen if nothing changes,” said researcher Dr. Lan Liang of the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Changing the trend isn’t a matter of doughnut avoidance, the researchers say. Rather, vast social changes—such as more pedestrian-friendly communities and a food industry that churns out healthier products—are needed.

The universal body language of sportsThe Olympics are a good place to study the gestures of victory and defeat—raised arms, slumped shoulders—many of which are consistent across sports and cultures. Now research suggests we don’t learn those gestures from each other, but we may be born with them. Psychologists from the University of British Columbia and San Francisco State University analyzed photos of judo competitors at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which included sighted, blind, and blind-since-birth athletes from more than 30 countries. The winners, regardless of culture or ability to see, raised their arms, tilted their heads back, and puffed out their chests; the losers slumped their shoulders and narrowed their chests. Congenitally blind athletes presumably did not have the ability to learn the gestures from watching others, so there may be some hardwiring via evolution, according to the report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Why? The physical gestures may help enhance or inhibit an individual’s social status. No word on the Tiger Woods fist-pump or the end-zone dance.

Clumsy children make for obese adults?Youngsters who are clumsy and uncoordinated at age 7 are about two to four times as likely to be obese in adulthood as their more agile and graceful peers. Researchers from the Örebro University Hospital in Sweden say the obesity-prone kids may be showing subtle signs of “poorer neurological function,” and that may explain why obese adults are at greater risk of dementia and other cognitive problems in old age. Results come from a study of more than 11,000 people born in Great Britain in 1958. The British Medical Journal study measured fine motor control, such as the ability to copy a design, rather than sports abilities, such as hitting a ball with a bat. Still, it’s not likely that such children would participate in dance, sports, or other activities that would keep the weight off. The next study we’d like to see? One that finds ways to make physical activity fun and fulfilling for obesity-prone kids.


Related Blog: How Much Running Is Too Much Running?U.S. Obesity Epidemic Continues to GrowKids’ Obesity May Lead to Epidemic of Adult Blog: Is Runners High a Religious Experience?

Study: Fast


By Patrick SauerWEDNESDAY, Nov. 26, 2008 ( — Ronald McDonald first appeared in a television ad in 1963—played by none other than the Today show’s Willard Scott—and 45 years later the burger-slinging clown has reached near-universal recognition. The book Fast Food Nation notes that 96% of American schoolchildren surveyed recognized Ronald McDonald, second only to Santa Claus.

That’s good for corporate branding, but not for childhood obesity, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of Law and Economics.

The authors, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that a ban on fast-food advertisements (for all such restaurants, not just McDonald’s) would significantly reduce the number of overweight children in the United States.

Their calculations, conducted with funding from the National Institutes of Health, indicate that a ban during children’s programming would cut down on the number of overweight children ages 3–11 by 18%, while lowering the number of overweight adolescents ages 12–18 by 14%.

The study is based on the television-watching habits of some 13,000 children enrolled in the 1979 Child–Young Adult National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which looked at the number of hours of fast-food advertising messages seen by children every week.

Shin-Yi Chou, assistant professor of economics at Lehigh University and a study coauthor, says that the findings weren’t a surprise. Many experts believe that childhood obesity is linked to television advertising, but there’s been little concrete evidence.

There are outright bans on fast-food ads in countries such as Sweden and Norway, but Chou says the study’s goal was not to change U.S. laws. Such a ban is impractical in the United States for a number of reasons—free speech being one. But the study also suggests that eliminating businesses’ tax deductions related to advertising could reduce childhood obesity by 5% to 7%.

“We aren’t saying the government should eliminate ads, but we do want to stress that it impacts children’s health,” says Chou. “Kids are affected by advertising.”

Other factors that contribute to childhood obesity, such as family economics, lack of daily exercise, and time spent in passive activities, were not taken into account in the study, nor were the recent changes made as part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative program.

The program, which is sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB), was set up after a 2006 Institute of Medicine report found compelling evidence linking food advertising on television and increases in childhood obesity.

Both McDonald’s and Burger King have retooled advertising aimed at children under 12, and are now promoting healthier choices.

“Consumers are demanding better-for-you products, but this study doesn’t consider the content of advertising,” says Elaine Kolish, the BBB Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative director. “We’d all like kids to see ads for healthier foods.”

The important message of the new report is that it’s part of a larger picture, according to Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, the director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Lab and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.

“Industry and health care need to work together to reduce the overconsumption of calories that increase a child’s body weight,” says Lichtenstein.

It remains to be seen if the study will lead to further restrictions on fast-food advertising during children’s programming, but Chou has one simple way for parents to limit exposure to fast-food pitches: DVRs and TiVos.

“We carefully select programs and skip all the advertising,” she says. “Once kids get to a McDonald’s, do they really want to eat a salad?”


Related Links:The Best Fast-Food OptionsAmerica’s Healthiest Fast-Food ChainsShould Fast Food Be Banned From High-Fat Neighborhoods?What Those Fast-Food Calorie Signs Actually Look Like

Ending Weight Bias: The Easiest Way to Tackle Obesity in America


Discrimination is diminishing, giving way to progress…all the way to the White House. And we’re all thinking about the challenges ahead for America. The key to addressing one of our biggest health challenges—the obesity crisis—may lie in making size discrimination illegal.

The journal Obesity published a special issue on weight bias in November. The bulk of it consisted of articles you’d expect to see—ones that follow the path of how our attitudes about fat develop. Studies showed preschool kids associating pictures of fat children with words like ugly, selfish, and stupidteenagers teasing and stereotyping, and overweight girls with low self-esteem getting caught in vicious loop of unhealthy, disordered eating.

And, according to one study, it doesn’t get any easier as we age.  Obese job candidates applying for a management position were rated as less likely to succeed and less likely to have leadership potential and were assigned lower starting salaries than their thinner counterparts. There is no shortage of examples of size discrimination in real life: Simply read comments people leave on news stories about weight or look at the size of airline seats. Size can hurt your paycheck or your chances of marrying, and celebrities face plenty of criticism when they put on pounds. (See which celebrities have healthy BMIs.) Even doctors and nurses show bias against their heavy patients.

These studies and examples show how little we expect from people who are overweight and obese, and how little we feel they may deserve. They also show how little overweight and obese folks can expect of—and for—themselves.

Fighting weight biasBut the last article in this special issue, by Jennifer Pomeranz at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, is food for thought for anyone interested in tackling the nation’s obesity crisis. She says that as a nation, we can’t really solve the obesity crisis until we first address weight bias. (You can also read a Rudd Center policy paper on weight bias.)

Pomeranz uses the examples of discrimination against blacks and gays to make her case. In the early 20th century, African Americans had a high death rate, and leading physicians at that time attributed it to a “lack of self-control” and a “lack of physical and moral cleanliness.” Decades later, researchers realized the real problem was low economic status. Only when cases like Brown vs. Board of Education began to give blacks better access to equal education, health care, jobs, and pay did the death rate change.

In the same way, Pomeranz says our society didn’t start rallying around HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care until laws that made homosexuality illegal were overturned. In both cases, once society stopped blaming people for their conditions, began listening, and acted out of tolerance, compassion, and basic humanity, health problems were addressed.

She may have a point. Think about it: It’s OK, in our society, to talk about fat if you’re thin. But if you’re fat, you’re left out of the conversation. Docs aren’t even consistent in talking to obese patients about losing weight. Can we really expect to solve a problem by leaving the people with the problem out of the loop?

So as our new president takes on health care, what do you think it’ll take to turn the obesity crisis around? Do we need to officially call obesity a disease? Laws to make fat discrimination illegal?