Fat Facts – An Obesity Epidemic or a Beauty Bias?

FAT. How can so small a word have such a bad reputation? The dictionary lists 42 synonyms, not a single one of them complimentary. What a bad rap for something we all have and need!

There is only one body type that doesn’t appear to have much body fat, and that is the one coveted by Runway Models. These people are classified as Underweight, and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18.5. If I was to be in that category, I would have to weigh something less than 99 pounds, a figure I haven’t seen on my scale since I was a youth. Statistics indicate that 1.8 percent of the adult American population is underweight. A Recent Joint Study by Stats Canada, Kaiser Permanente, Portland State U, Oregon Health U and McGill U, indicates that Underweight people have the highest risk of death of all the BMI categories. Eating disorders and digestive diseases are associated with this group of people.

Next in line for risk are the Class III Obese people – extreme obesity. These folks have a BMI of 40 or higher. If I was in this category, I would have to weigh 215 pounds or more. US Statistics for 2008 indicate that 5.7 percent of the adult population are extremely obese. Their lives are shortened by 8 to 10 years.

These two classes represent 7.5% of the American public, and their lives are significantly shortened due to their weight. 92.5% of the population will have no appreciable shortening of the length of life. And while increased weight is considered to be a significant risk factor in Cardiovascular disease, (which is the number one killer in the USA with 39% of the deaths each year) the vast majority of those deaths are people over the age of 75. (The average American life expectancy is a bit over 77 years.)

In the category of relatively normal life spans, 33.8% of the people are Class I and II Obese. These people have BMI’s of 30 to 34.9, and 35 to 39.9 respectively.  Apparently Oprah Winfrey just slightly nudges into the Class I Obese category. (I would have to weigh 161 pounds or more to be Obese). These people’s lives could be shortened by 2 to 5 years because of their weight. Obesity has been on the rise since 1960, when the percentage of obese people was 15%. This increase leveled off in 1999, so while there are more obese people, the percentage of them is not increasing significantly.

Next in line for life expectancy are Normal  weight people. They have a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. USA statistics for 2008 indicate that 24.7% of the population was normal weight. ( I would have to remain under 134 pounds to be in this category, a feat I have rarely achieved for any extended period of time since High School.) But apparently that is okay, because Normal Weight people have a higher risk of death than overweight people. I suspect this could be because there are still more smokers in this category, but I have no figures to back this up. Smoking, by the way, has decreased by just over 20% in the same time period that human weights have increased by a similar percentage.

Overweight People, with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, live longer than any other category. USA statistics for 2008 indicate that 34% of the adult population was in this category. These are the people who have more muscles, bone, adipose (fat) tissue and/or water than normal weight people. While this will include many types of athletes, it will also include many older people who put on weight because they slow down as they age.

While these three classes of people will statistically live a similar length of time, there is no question that the people in the Obese class will generally have more health problems, resulting in a significant financial burden on the economy. Of course, this statement is equally true for those people who smoke, and abuse alcohol and drugs. It is also true for the simple reason that our population is aging. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop an ailment of some sort. Invariably we all die from something, few of us simply expiring because our bodies gave out at 125 years of age…

When it comes to public acceptance, 26.5% of the population try to make 73.5% of the population feel miserable. That is because people are more obsessed with looks than they care to admit. In an essay titled Mirror, Mirror Kate Fox notes that studies show that the ‘bias for beauty’ operates in nearly every social situation. People believe that ‘beautiful is good’ as it relates to intelligence, competence, social skills, confidence – even moral virtue. Today’s culture defines the most beautiful people in the world as being underweight or normal weight. The rest are called Fat, and they don’t stand a chance of being treated equally. The so called Obesity Epidemic is as much a Beauty Epidemic as anything.

4 thoughts on “Fat Facts – An Obesity Epidemic or a Beauty Bias?

  1. I totally understand. According to one scale I am at 33%. But according to another, I am at 20%. So I don’t put too much stock into them. If my blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. levels are good, then I am not worried what the BMI scales say.

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  2. My association with the word fat is according to how a person look, not how much they weigh. The definition of obesity is really a measurement and it’s still very subjective to each individual in my opinion. MY BMI suggests that I am overweight, but I think I am more to “not skinny” than fat if you know what I mean 🙂

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  3. I think that weight is a confusing topic in our culture. I have to say I am visually driven by our culture to accept leaner people. However, I hope that being fit is not about starvation but maybe some exercise too!

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