Chief Science Correspondent
In other news, smoking is bad for you too.
Actually, the NCI-led study (published in the Public Library of Science Medicine earlier this month), reported that participants labeled with Class III obesity (a BMI of 40 or higher) had a reduced life expectancy of 14 years - comparable to that of a normal weight smoker. The three most common causes of death were heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Class III obesity is on the rise in the United States. Six percent of American adults fall under this category, a nearly three-fold increase from 2000 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead author Cari Kitahara said the effect of extreme obesity on lifespan had never been studied before.
“Given our findings, it appears that class III obesity is increasing and may soon emerge as a major cause of early death in this and other countries worldwide,” senior author Patricia Hartge said.
It's clear that this is becoming a major concern and, if the trend continues, I do not doubt Hartge's prediction.
The question is in how we address this issue, particularly because of its sensitive message. Not many smokers are offended by smoking campaigns. Alcoholics don't protest alcohol awareness.
Yet a person's body size and shape is an inherent part of who she (or he) is. I've seen quite a few "campaigns" circulating online within the past year promoting body acceptance and rejecting our cultural push towards the flawless, stick-thin figures that remain nearly impossible for most of us to attain. If you don't know what I mean, a search for #bigisbeautiful on Twitter should make it clear.
These campaigns are centered on personal acceptance, as an attempt to push women (and, again, men) to see past what their body looks like and appreciate it for what it can do. You don't have to look like a model to be beautiful.
And that is certainly true. As a woman constantly struggling with both my weight and my body image, I can certainly appreciate this message. In many ways, I have embraced it. Everyone should feel proud of their body and be comfortable in their own skin.
Yet these campaigns may be doing just as much harm as they are good. It's time to realize that obesity may not make a person any less beautiful, but it could be deadly. This is not a new argument; however, the retorts I have read generally involve the argument that a thin person can be just as unhealthy as an overweight person; the effects are simply not as apparent.
This is true, to a certain point. I know of several people in my life who may be of above average weight, but have made healthy eating and fitness an important part of their lives. As someone whose diet always seems to start on Monday (only to be abandoned by Wednesday) I greatly admire them for their lifestyle choices.
But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't all work to make our bodies the best that they can physically be. That does not change the fact that this study shows that, statistically, obesity is a hazard in itself. Whether brought on by genetics, life choices or a bit of both, it is extremely dangerous.
Our country is on the verge of a crisis, and unless we begin to change the way we view our own health, it will only become worse. It's time we stopped treating obesity as trait of acceptance and started to realize that we can do better.
It's not that big isn't beautiful. It's not that obesity is something we should mock or look down upon. But it's also not a problem that we should ignore.
It's that by perpetuating the idea that these extra pounds are simply a part of who we are, we are putting our own lives in jeopardy.