Diet and Weight: A Matter of Health, Not Looks
I hate talking and thinking about weight, mine or anybody else’s. Who doesn’t?
It’s a bit ironic given the majority of my research is on diet and obesity. Many of my studies look at how what we eat and drink impacts weight and risk of obesity along with various related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. (For more about my specific research projects and scientific publications, please visit my website.)
This page needs to be here, however, since we live in a world with a pandemic obesity crisis. In the United States alone, approximately 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of kids are overweight or obese. (Many people who are overweight or obese do not recognize it; I encourage you to calculate your body mass index and discuss your weight with your physician if you are uncertain.) As Westernized lifestyles, behaviors, and food gets exported, so, too, do our obesity rates: According to the International Obesity Task Force, more than 1 billion adults and 200 million children worldwide are currently overweight while an additional 600 million adults and 40-50 million children are obese.
I actually began my research career thinking about how pervasive and destructive the Westernized perception of beauty is in the US (and some other countries). We are bombarded with images of women of unrealistic body sizes and shapes with virtually unattainable weights barring chronic food deprivation. It bothers me greatly that we have such a narrow perception of beauty, and the last thing I want is for my own research – or this blog! – to fuel this grotesque fire.
That’s why I subtitle many of the lectures I give on this topic “A Matter of Health.” My wish is not that overweight individuals hate their body; the current stigma of weight bias and discrimination is truly obscene. Yet, the simple medical fact is that excess body fat carries health risks that are essentially avoidable. Still today, it seems many people do not fully recognize the degree to which extra weight impacts their health. For example, type 2 diabetes is essentially a preventable disease for most people and in some cases can be reversed with weight loss. Many cancers have also been associated with obesity. Obesity impacts almost all body organs and systems (see figure, right, from The Obesity Society). Note that the graphic does not capture the psychological pain and suffering that many overweight individuals face due to diminished self-esteem and prejudice in our body-conscious culture.
Environment Matters: Individual Food Choices in Context
In my worldview, which is rooted in public health, an individual is not fully to blame for his/her health, weight included. We live in an environment that encourages food consumption at every turn, in every place – and much of it unhealthy, I hasten to add. Food cost and accessibility are additional barriers to eating healthfully for some people as well. Individuals are thus part of a larger system that includes family, community, local, state, national, and global environments. Food policies and production practices influence what reaches individual plates, and these factors must be considered when working to stem the obesity epidemic on a population basis and help individuals manage their own weight at a personal level. These topics are the subjects of many of my classes and research projects.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done the decision of what you choose to put in your mouth must ultimately be made by you. My mission is to help you bring the latest science to your plate, and that includes cooking and eating in a way that promotes healthy weight. And guess what? Those same meals and habits that will keep you free from excess weight are the same ones that will keep you enjoying good health and living longer, too.
Also, for the record, I have had my own share of struggles with weight, and I have just as much trouble turning down that
fourth second whoopie pie as you.