GUEST COMMENTARY: Ignoring obesity is part of the problem

Monday, July 23, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The kind of obesity that the whole nation should talk about is the kind caused by lack of exercise and addiction to junk food. This type of obesity does not apply to people with a medical condition or genetic factor. However, when I told my daughter that I would write about this type of obesity, she had a concerned look and said, "please don’t hurt people’s feelings."

Then, another incident happened that made me realize there is no easy solution to obesity, mainly because we are accused of being negative, insensitive, critical and judgmental if we offer constructive solutions to solve this problem. I commented on an article in The Huffington Post about the heaviest woman in the world, who unsurprisingly is from the U.S. She weighs 650 pounds, used to consume 10,000 calories a day and intentionally won the title of the heaviest woman in the world to make herself ashamed of her weight in order to lose the weight. The similar example is: I will try to have a cardiac arrest in order to be more careful about my heart. My comment was simple: “Eating right should be first on her list of things for losing the weight." Immediately, I received a reply: "You judgmental people keep your comments to yourself."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. is the heaviest developed country in the world. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Obesity is a major public health issue worldwide and is the second leading cause of preventable death after cigarette smoking. In the U.S., obesity costs people thousands of dollars per year in everything from medical bills, grocery bills and lost wages at work. In addition, research shows obese children have inadequate academic performance compared to their healthy classmates.

Knowing all of this, we cannot mention the subject of weight without hurting people’s feelings. We cannot comment on people’s obesity even though we know they are killing themselves by doing all the wrong things. If you have cancer patients in your family who do not seek treatment, would you be quiet and let them live their life with the sickness that you know will kill them eventually? No, you would encourage them to seek treatment.

But when it comes to weight, we don’t dare to talk about it. This notion is based on the fact that we believe it is polite to let people live their life as they wish. It’s easy to give helpful suggestions for any other medical problems because people know we don’t mean to hurt them, but giving suggestions to lose weight is insulting because we are indirectly criticizing their personal choices.

There are a lot of contributing factors in obesity such as genetics, medical problems, such as hormonal imbalances or side effects of medications, and finally lifestyle and eating habits. Some people blame their obesity on the hormones that are used in poultry and livestock industry to maximize the meat production. Of course, genetics are not curable, and other medical problems should be dealt with professionally by physicians. Therefore, this only applies to people who are addicted to unhealthy food and cause their obesity through their bad eating habits and lack of exercise.

What is our responsibility toward this type of obesity? If a person becomes a couch potato and keeps eating junk food all the time (chips, chocolate, ice cream, salty snacks, fast food, etc.) and never exercises or moves, obesity is absolutely his or her own doing. By ignoring his or her fault because we don’t want to offend him or her, we are participating in his or her folly and sending that person to his or her grave. If someone is addicted to pain killers and drugs, family and friends will intervene and try to help the addicted person. When it comes to weight, we don’t show the same eagerness to fix the problem. Why? Is it because we don’t think obesity is as serious as drug addiction? This concept is strange because bad eating habits are a different kind of addiction that will still kill you just like drugs, only a little slower.

So what is the right thing to do when it comes to losing weight? In my opinion, the right thing is determination to eliminate our laziness. When it comes to food and exercise, even the fittest people in the world have encountered a few situations in which they have acted lazy or ate too much. We are humans and are allowed to give into temptations sometimes, as long as we do not keep repeating the same mistake over and over. It is always easier to open a bag of chips instead of washing an apple. It is so much more convenient to eat a bag of a salty snacks or chocolate instead of making salads and putting together different kinds of vegetables. It is much easier to sit on the couch and watch a movie with the whole bowl of popcorn, a piece of cake and a can of soda instead of taking a walk, running, biking or swimming. But success does not come by doing easy things. Changing habits will be hard in the beginning, but replacing bad habits with good ones will make a huge difference in our lives. Exercising and eating right will take a lot of energy, but when it becomes a habit, we would not be able to live without it.

For the people who can change their situation, our responsibility is to shout, yell, and cry: "Wake up, don’t kill yourself." Why not do the right thing and tell them what will happen to them if they don’t do something about their weight? Is the fear of their anger and discontent toward us much greater than the fear of losing them forever? No, it is not and should not be. Therefore, it is our obligation to put our foot down and fight the junk food addiction exactly the same way that we treat drug addiction and make our loved ones change for the best.

It is a fact that you cannot change people if they are not willing to change. If the patient does not want the cure, there is nothing that anyone can do. But our job as family members and friends is to discard the notion of hurting their feelings and encourage them to choose the right path and save their life. Who cares if their feelings get hurt if they end up improving their lifestyle and eating habits? They may even thank us when all the hurt feelings and most importantly, the extra weight has vanished.

Monir Shababi is a research assistant professor at the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. She's passionate about writing and decided to do some writing about different subjects.

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