How early do we have to start worrying about obesity?

A recent study shows that there’s an increasing tendency of overweight babies, and this is something that parents should really be worried about. Apparently, at six months, there’s a chance you’ve already been slated to be overweight through adolescence and adulthood.

Is 21st century culture too obsessed with weight/nutrition (3 out of my last five posts have been about food and weight) or are we, as a group, so lackadasical about fitness that we’re now endangering the truly innocent?

14 Responses to How early do we have to start worrying about obesity?

  1. Matt says:

    Last weekend, the New York Times magazine cited studies showing that intestinal microorganisms can affect obesity. It has something to do with the efficiency of an individual’s food absorption mechanisms.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/magazine/13obesity.html

    Since the media began covering the “obesity epidemic,” I’ve begun to wonder whether there even is such a thing, or if it’s just being used as a weapon to pummel people with in the name of science and health. And even if there is an obesity epidemic, how did it go from being unnoticed to making the nightly news in the space of about three months?

    I blame the Atkins diet, just because it’s fun.

  2. Kris says:

    I’m thinking weapon, mostly. Although obesity is definitively linked to certain health problems, the weight it is given (pun intended but now apologized for), even by health care professionals, is dispropportionate to proven risks.

    Guilt over eating apple pie is now ingrained in American culture as deeply as love of apple pie, and yeah, I think blaming the ridiculous Atkins diet is a great idea (as a stand-up comedian once said, “Now bread is bad for you. Everybody in the whole world has been wrong for the past 2000 years”).

    I’d like to see medical research showing that HIGH birth weight is more detrimental to a baby’s health than LOW birth wieght (cause it’s not).

  3. dbay says:

    Guys, this is excellent food for thought (no pun intended, seriously) on many levels. But I do want to say that the obesity topic was definitely not an unnoticed epidemic up until 3 months ago, for most people. It\’s been a media and societal obsession for a whole lot of years, at least in the U.S. I\’ve been reading story after story about the obesity epidemic (in international media too, like the BBC) for many years now. Study after study and stat after stat come out about it regularly and have for ages. Definitely not a new trend or obsession.

    The birth weight thing—who knows how those studies or findings will evolve. The media often jump the gun in how quickly they report minor health study findings and what conclusions they draw from them. It drives the few scientists I know nuts. Hey, the study I read in the Times last spring that I was most intrigued by was the one that found obesity could be CONTAGIOUS! Holy crap that opens a world of possibility.

    Atkins sucks. And that apple pie we had last weekend was GREAT!

  4. Matt says:

    Good point. I didn’t mean to imply that nobody had talked about an obesity epidemic before. But it wasn’t until about 2003 or 2004 that I noticed the nightly news’s obsession with what “America: The Book” calls “shots of walking fat people with their heads cut off.” It seemed like it went really quickly from being, “Being overweight is problematic,” to “We’re in the throes of an epidemic here.”

  5. Krystal says:

    Well. I just read an article about how Body Mass Index (BMI), the measurement most widely accepted as an “obesity” indicator, thus cardiovascular disease predictor, isn’t really all that good at determining such things – duh. Although the study was focusing on the elderly, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the formula cannot account for non-fat body mass (muscle, bones, ass-load of hair, etc).

    Some researchers say that the best determinant for fat-related risk factors is Waist-Hip ratio (WHR). Okay, I weigh 117 lbs. and according to my WHR, I am at high risk for cardiovascular disease because my fat deposits in my belly, not my, er, ass. Great, give me one more reason to dislike my flat-back!

    Another note on birthweight – Kenzie weighed a mere 6 lbs. at birth. She is now in the 80th percentile for weight in her age group. So what does that mean?

  6. Krystal says:

    You guys remember Gordon, you know, that guy from Scotland? He remembered upon arrival Stateside being most blown away by the girth of our citizens. He was, in fact, surprised that the continental US had not yet sunk into the ocean from the stress of the weight of its oversize occupants.

  7. Pulao says:

    Now, that United States supports obese people thing is completely different, and, I have to add, brings up some complex issues. For instance, I agree with dbay in that I don\’t think that concern over obesity is a new instance– or one particular to the United States either. (Also, if obesity were in fact contagious, it would be a truly remarkable discovery with some very interesting potential ramifications– some good, like lessening guilt among us \”heavier\” folk, but also some bad, like paranoia of us \”heavier\” folk. Do we know anything about the possibe nature of obesity\’s contagiousness?)

    But if in fact it\’s true that there are more overweight people in the United States than anywhere else, and if in fact this is something that people are generally not proud of, there is a qualified flip side– that if you are, in fact, overweight, life is easier in the United States. I mean, unlike, say, in Delhi, there are stores that I can go to that sell clothes my size. These might be segregated from the rest, they might even be more expensive or less fashionable, but such clothes exist. So, I wonder– is this actually encouraging people to be fat, or allowing them to be happy as they are (and are the two necessarily different things?)

    And Kenzie\’s weight means, of course, that you\’re a great parent, and that, as dbay pointed out, who knows what initial birthweight actually signifies in the long run?

  8. Pulao says:

    For my prelims, I’m reading an early work by Gandhi. I have to say that I’m more than a little disappointed, which is a matter for another time. More on topic, he did have this to say about doctors, nutrition etc.

    “Doctors have almost unhinged us. Sometimes I think that quacks are better that highly qualified doctors. Let us consider: the business of a doctor is to take care of the body, or, properly speaking, not even that. Their business is really to rid the body of diseases that may afflict it. How do these diseases arise? Surely by our negligence or indulgence. I overeat, I have indigestion, I go to a doctor, he gives me medicine, I am cured. I overat again, I take his pills again. Had I not take the pills in the first instance, I would hot have suffered the punishment deserved by me and I would not have overeated again. The doctor intervened and helped me to indluge myself. My body thereby certainly felt more at ease; but my mind became weakened. A continuance of a course of medicine must, therefore, result in loss of control over the mind.”

    Oh boy– guilt, sin, dependency, it’s all there. What do you think?

  9. Karah says:

    Gosh, I’m really disappointed in Gandhi’s assumptions. It sounds like he’s assuming all health problems are caused by overindulgence, and the fucntion of doctors is letting us “get away with” overindulging? So what did I overindulge in that made my thyroid quit working when I was in my late twenties? If it was all that booze, then all of my friends [not to mention my siblings] would have the same problem. But we know now it’s apparently an inherited time bomb. So basically I chose the wrong parents. But isn’t it the Buddhists that say we choose our parents?

    “A continuance of a course of medicine must, therefore, result in loss of control over the mind.” Sorry, I don’t think so. My mind was out of control long before I got on meds of any kind.

  10. Krystal says:

    On the other hand, my sister is now in rehab for addiction to prescribed medication. Partly her fault, but mostly the fault of a doctor who really wasn’t helping a patient. She was being treated for anxiety disorder – however, she was never given any cognitive therapy whatsoever. And the doctor was not following FDA guidelines for the prescription. I wrote a letter to him informing him of the dependency she developed and he just dropped her as a patient (he didn’t want to get sued).

    The course of medicine my sister was on actually did lead to a loss of control over her mind.

    So, not saying Gandhi was on to anything, but I do see a problem with depending too much on doctors and medicine. Especially when we blindly trust.

  11. Pulao says:

    Can I just say that I like that we’ve come to the point where, to agree with Gandhi, we have to provide a disclaimer!

    But, I take your point– we can trust doctors too unquestioningly, and, at the same time, I wonder at the self-confidence that people have in assuming they might know more than people who’ve got actual medical degrees. So, I guess the fundamental question becomes how much do we trust doctors, and how do we know what doctors are worth it?

  12. Krystal says:

    I provided a disclaimer because I really have never read Gandhi, nor did I want my ignorance revealed (yes, I was being safe).

    I get a “gut” feeling about doctors. That’s all I need.

    My sister told me that her doctor basically hit on her, making inappropriate comments. It doesn’t take a genius to know that something about him was not up to snuff.

  13. Kris says:

    So sorry to hear about your sister, Krystal. That doc is definitely on the wrong side of the hippocratic oath.

    To say that overeating leads to heart burn is one thing, but most illnesses don\’t work like that. Even to say your lung cancer came from cigarettes or your heart attack from hot dogs is a problem (you can reduce your risk with \”lifestyle\” choices but genetics factor in big-time — some smokers smoke 70 years in relative good health and non-smokers \”unfairly\” die of lung cancer every day).

    Treating diseases by telling the patient its their fault probably won\’t bring them back to health. This is particularly dangerous in mental disorders, for two reasons I can think of. One, although medicine and psychiatry theorize physiological causes of depression, like an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, you can\’t measure levels of neurotransmitters (like serotonin) in a living brain. So there\’s no proof, in a way; no blood test, no MRI that you can hold up and say: I have depression. This would lead to people saying, well, you\’re just feeling down . . .
    http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392

    Which is the other problem with telling a depressed that it\’s (forgive me) all in their head. Thinking it\’s all in your head, or feeling really bad about yourself, is already a symptom of the disease.

    Regardless of the scientific causes of depression, you can\’t cure it by willing yourself to feel better — so blaming the patient won\’t help much. A comination of psychotherapy, drugs, and lifestyle change I think is the most often given, and often successful, prescription.

    But Gandhi has a point, too. Since there is no medical test to prove you have depression, could drugs be overprescribed? Definitely.

    A responsible physician might refer to depression diagnosis instruments like the Beck Depression Inventory, a less responsible one might just say here\’s your Prozac.

    And culpability lies with the patients, also, who want an easy fix for a very complicated disease, and definitely with the drug companies who advertise their medications because they want profits (how, btw, can anyone ethically advertise a cure? Doctors can have opinions about what treatments they favor, but who can responsibly pick a BRAND of treatment?)

    But even then, if some drugs are overpresribed, it is not, to me, a question of hurting someone\’s character; what I would be most worried about is the prevalence of sleep aids (like the heavily advertised \”Lunesta\”) that take a universal human desire (for rest) and turn a profit on it while studies indicate that their drugs, unlike Prozac, may cause cancer.
    http://repositories.cdlib.org/ucsdpsych/3

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