Fat is the last personal characteristic that people in this country feel perfectly fine about discriminating against.
More than a third of us are obese right now. The impact of obesity on life has been well studied.
Obese women make 24 percent less money than women equal in every way, except thin. There is an often quoted study in 1988 where students choose criminals (felons) as more desirable spouses than an obese person.
Obesity more than any other common negative personal characteristic gives other people the impression that they know exactly what a person is all about. We don’t presume all bald people or those with one leg share the same personality.
Prejudice against the obese is so pervasive that the mere notion that you could be fat and healthy is absurd to even educated people.
But what is healthy? Is it a 20-year-old who is young, fit and good looking? I guess that leaves my 80-year-old mother out, although she gets more done in a day than I do.
We could talk about risk factors, some are choices (smoking, diet, blood pressure and cholesterol), and some are not (age, sex, genetics, and your diet as a child). If I had to pick the worst offender to a healthy body, I would pick smoking, not obesity.
But unlike many things that happen to us as we struggle through this mortal plane, being fat is interpreted as simply getting what we deserve. It is the “just dessert” for having poor self-control and weak willpower.
How weak is the body or the will that forces someone 300-plus pounds out into the world, when the rest of us are severely tested by a bad hair day.
The fight against obesity is a longer and harder road than most other challenges in life. A pound of fat has 3,500 calories, and that is enough fuel to go for two or three days even if you eat nothing. A pound or two a week is about the best you can do with hard work and a strict diet; every day for a year!
Obesity is a risk factor, not the sum total of a human being, or even the worst health offense. Obesity can make high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes worse, but most obese people don’t have hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes.
Ultimately we are talking about blood vessel disease – atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) – when we talk about any of these risk factors.
Besides obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, many other factors influence atherosclerosis. There are genetics, age, sex, stress, diet, exercise, disposition, addiction, socioeconomic level and marital status, to name a few.
How many risk factors does it take to be unhealthy? This is partly a game of genetic roulette.
The bottom line is: There is room in the world for some healthy fat people.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona center.
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