By LINDA S. HEARD
Let us quit kidding ourselves. There’s no such thing as being fat and happy. That’s not to say there aren’t seriously overweight individuals who claim they are not too bothered one way or the other. But, despite being told by feminists, therapists and magazines that we should love ourselves whatever our size or shape, the brutal truth is this: There is nothing positive about obesity and it’s time that message was put across no matter how uncomfortable it may make some feel.
But the current message is quite the reverse. There’s plenty of tough love out there for smokers and substance abusers, but those who abuse their God-given health with food are treated with kid gloves and they often feel they are deserving of our sympathy.
A study in the journal Obesity suggests that blaming people for being overweight is counterproductive and may lead them to further weight gain. So what should one do? Pat them on the back and watch them slowly committing suicide? Smoking is reducing mainly because it’s no longer socially acceptable. Non-smokers aren’t afraid to voice their disapproval when someone lights-up in their space. So why shouldn’t overeaters be subject to a similar stigma? Perhaps because food is bound-up with maternal love, feel-good emotion and in this part of the world, traditional hospitality. But is it really a loving gesture to ply guests struggling to watch their weight with syrupy cakes with the words, “Go on. Just one won’t hurt you?”
Some days ago, I bumped into an Egyptian friend in his 30s, who weighs well over 140 kilos. Our conversation turned to diets, or rather my own serial diets, when I asked him when he planned to begin eating healthily. He was taken aback at first. But his smile quickly returned to his face. He did a twirl and said, “I’m cute just the way I am.” I can almost hear you thinking, “Bravo! He likes the way he is.” But perhaps you’ll think again when it sinks in what a horrendous toll this disease — and yes, obesity is a disease — takes on people’s lives.
Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic, so much so that it’s impacting the life expectancy of future generations who, if the trend continues, will be more vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases, disability, diabetes, gallstones and high blood pressure, infertility and even cancer. That isn’t something to smile about. And neither is a study published in The Lancet earlier this year that places Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia among the top 10 countries with the highest rates in youth under the age of 20 that are overweight or obese.
A separate analysis focusing on the UAE found that 66 percent of male Emirati nationals and 60 percent of females were tipping the scales at unacceptable levels. It’s no coincidence that citizens of Gulf countries also have the highest prevalence for Type 2 diabetes in the world. It’s no secret that the causes can be simplified to overeating fat or sugar-laden foods without taking enough physical exercise to burn calories, although, to be fair, there are those whose battle of the bulge is made harder due to genetics or hormone imbalances.
Besides threatening life and limb, obesity is placing a strain on health care systems. Whereas “Quit smoking” campaigns have seen dramatic results in many parts of the planet, people are getting fatter year upon year. A 2012 American study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that obesity adds more to health care costs than the effects of smoking.
The UK, where 67 percent of men and 57 percent of women, along with almost 30 percent of children, are overweight or obese, representing the fattest country in Western Europe behind Iceland and Malta, obesity is being taken with the seriousness it deserves. This month, British health specialists urged England’s chief medical officer, Prof. Sally Davies, to set-up an emergency task force to tackle childhood obesity to include doctors, nurses, dietitians, dentists and educators. “An entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks,” wrote the concerned health specialists in an open letter.
Besides the physical problems associated with obesity, it is often accompanied by depression, low self-esteem and low-self image. People who are obese or morbidly obese often believe they are discriminated against in the workplace or in social gatherings due to their size. Results of an online poll of US adults showed that one percent of the overweight respondents, 17 percent of the obese and 35 percent of the morbidly obese thought their size had robbed them of a job or promotion. The obese can also face difficulties when traveling and, in some cases are forced to purchase two airplane seats; not only expensive but also humiliating. They’re the lucky ones. A morbidly obese Frenchman, returning home from the US, was considered by British Airways as too heavy to fly and too much of a safety risk by Eurostar trains.
Ultimately, there has to be a sea change in the way we approach this topic. The UK’s Department of Health Secretary-General, Ambrose McLoughlin, was blunt in his assessment. “If we don’t deal with obesity, the present generation of parents, may be the first to bury their children,” he warned.