Obesity: Discrimination, Stigma in Literature

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers this definition: “obesity: a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body” (Webster Online Dictionary). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity further: “…obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 2.9 is considered overweight, while an adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese “(Center for Disease Control). Table 1 presents quantitative information on obesity, based on one’s height, weight range, and BMI.

Figure 1: Summarizes obesity.
The prevalence of excess weight is increasing rapidly across the country, and today close to 65% of the adult population is overweight and obese. Comparing the period 1976-1980 with 1999-2000, the prevalence of overweight has increased by 40% (from 46.0% to 64.5%) and the prevalence of obesity has risen by 110% (from 14.5% to 30.5%) (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden). Studies also show that the weights of children, and those in their teens, are also increasing. More than 10% of 2-to 5-yr-olds and 15% of 6-to 19-yr-olds are overweight (BMI ≥ 95th percentile for age and gender) (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden). These percentages suggest that the number of overweight children in the United States has almost doubled, while the number of overweight adolescents has reached the “near-tripled” mark, over the last two decades (U.S. Department of Health and human Services). Although it has been said that some segments of the society or population are more likely to be overweight or obese than others, people of all ages, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and geographic levels and geographic areas are experiencing a significant increase in weight (U.S. Department of Health and human Services). United States is not the only country subjected to this increase in weight; international data indicates that it is, perhaps, a global health problem. The prevalence of obesity is rising in other developed and affluent countries and is now in existence in less affluent countries (Popkin). It is easy to come to a conclusion that more and more people are being identified as overweight or obesity, based on these statistics. But, why is there an increase in weight? Does obesity have a cause? Overweight and obesity result from the interaction of many factors, including genetic, metabolic, behavioral, and environmental influences. Changes in our eating habits and activity levels are said to have the increase in weight in our society, but the specific details of these complex behavior changes and calorie intake are not well understood. (Harnack, Jeffery, Boutelle). The usual cause of weight increase is related to sedentary activities such as, television watching and videogame playing. Television watching and videogame playing have increased; exercise equipment, health clubs, and recreational facilities have increased as well. Television viewing has been identified as a factor associated with greater weight in children and adults, but it is unclear whether this “sedentary activities-weight increase” relationship is a result of an increase in food consumption or a decrease in physical activity (Jeffery, Utter). In summation, it appears that the time spent on leisure activities has not changed significantly. Americans are becoming increasingly overweight. Yet even as more Americans are becoming overweight, in our society, “thin is in, and fat is regarded as a stigma” (Langford). Stigma is defined as “1. a) a scar left by a hot iron, b) a mark of shame or discredit: Stain, c) an identifying mark or characteristic: specifically: a specific diagnostic sign of a disease” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). In whatever way the word stigma is defined, social stigmatization stems from societal values on...
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