Obesity is a problem in our society that I feel gets lots of attention in some ways, and yet maybe not enough. Here is a short story to work out my feelings behind that statement.
I was attending a CPR and first aid class yesterday. It was a rather full room consisting of around 30 people, including instructors. In my estimation I was one of 4 maybe 5 people who would not be considered clinically obese. I don’t normally figure out that ratio, by the way. I thought of it because of the course topic. I thought about giving CPR and how it would maybe be quite a bit different doing it on someone who is obese, and how heart attacks are much more likely to happen to people who are obese. The instructors asked numerous times if we had any questions, and I wanted to ask about this, and even though it is probably a very legitimate question, it felt like a very not good idea.
Worth noting is that none of the dummies we practiced on had any simulated body fat or breast tissue. It seems like extra body mass in these cases is relevant to the chest compressions simulation. Awkward though it may be I think the American Heart Association should consider this.
Obesity is a real and very serious problem. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html The term epidemic is thrown around. I don’t disagree with it, also it feels a bit misleading in that obesity is more of a symptom than a disease in itself. Obesity does get called a disease, but in my understanding it just doesn’t fit that word well, and that word and the epidemic word might be hurting more than helping. Diseases of the epidemic sort are not something we usually associate with being preventable or treatable.
For example, Ebola, never really reached epidemic levels, but it is a fairly contagious disease, if you catch a disease of this sort, it certainly might be no fault of your own. Meaning, you’re just a jerk if you go around blaming people for having Ebola or Swine Flu. AIDS is sort of preventable, but there are plenty of ways to contract it where it would be silly to blame a person for having it. Plus the fact that it isn’t curable factors in. Similar with Cancer, for the most part – depends on the variety I suppose, but the only way I could see getting on anyones case about having cancer is if they had a treatable kind and just didn’t care that they had it, and weren’t trying to do anything about it. But who does that? Everyone knows cancer is serious, so I don’t think there needs to be a campaign to convince people of that! Alzheimer’s, again, maybe preventable in some cases, but not definitely. No cure. Autism… who knows, but inherited, so at least not thought of as preventable by the person who has it. No cure. These all feels like appropriate terms to pair with the word epidemic.
Now back to obesity. Preventable? Yes, definitely. Curable? Yep. More people suffer from it than contract Ebola? Without a doubt – not even close! Kills more people than AIDS? Well, trick question, most people don’t technically die from AIDS either, but generally yes, many more people die from complications related to being obese, like heart disease, than die from secondary infections contracted by people with AIDS. As serious as cancer? Not quite – though obesity is a risk factor for getting cancer – so still pretty serious. And yet it seems like most people don’t take it very seriously. I don’t understand why that is, and that is part of why I am writing this.
So what am I suggesting, that because obesity is preventable and curable, we therefor are justified in blaming or shaming fat people? Definitely no to the shaming, I mean, besides it not being nice, it probably wouldn’t work. Especially not for people who use food as an emotional comfort. Also I don’t believe shame would be justified. To illustrate why consider adult illiteracy. It is an interesting parallel since some people have said there is an epidemic of illiteracy as well as the statistical correlations with socio-economic status. (I don’t think I have heard illiteracy described as a disease though…) Anyway, I feel like shaming a fat person would be a lot like shaming an illiterate person. Ineffective for one, but more importantly it would be a misuse of shame. Shame has a place in my opinion, but it is in the realm of morals and ethics, not of knowledge. When the problem is essentially a problem of knowledge then teaching is the solution and shame is counterproductive, as well as – in this case – pointlessly making people feel bad which is just therefore mean.
My amateur opinion, that I think is shared by at least some experts, is that a primary cause of obesity is bad diet. I see bad diet as a lack of knowledge in two ways. One is that people eat unhealthy foods because they don’t know how unhealthy they are. Two, people have bad habits related to eating, and I think of habits as a type of psychological knowledge. Consider the way we talk about them sometimes. You are taught bad habits and can teach yourself good habits. Therefore Teaching people about good diet choices and eating habits might be akin to teaching a person to read.