Expert Claims Obesity Caused By Addiction

Dr. Susan Thompson, weight loss expert and professor of brain science, declared in an op-ed published January 3 that, “we are literally eating ourselves to death.”

According to Dr. Thompson, “It isn’t real food, it is the packaged, highly refined, chemically laden products marketed to us as ‘food’ that are killing us, and will continue to do so until we reframe what is being perpetrated on consumers in terms of addiction.”

The evidence on whether Americans agree with the notion that obesity, which kills almost 3 million people a year globally, could be the byproduct of addiction, is mixed.

On one hand, research has shown that growing numbers of both everyday Americans and medical professionals view obesity as more of a societal problem than a personal one. On the other hand, one survey found that 75% of respondents attributed obesity to a failure of willpower; this is how, at one time, drug and alcohol use disorders were viewed as well.

That so many view such a massive and shared community health issue as obesity as a private moral failing may confirm that obesity is, in fact, the result of addiction (since the thinking is a paradigm that’s been applied to other addictions in the past).

But if it’s not one’s personal willpower that is to blame for unhealthy amounts of weight, what is — and what is the scope of the problem in today’s landscape?

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Americans More Obese Than Ever

Half of the population is now obese, meaning they have a “Body Mass Index” (BMI) that is higher than 30. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and though BMI empowers individuals to evaluate whether or not they are obese, BMI “does not diagnose body fatness.”

An individual, therefore, could conceivably be medically obese but still not be body-fat; for the vast majority of those who fall within the designation of obese, however, this is not the case.

Body-fat obesity does not necessarily have to be linked to shame or personal failing in the way that many Americans’ beliefs indicate it perhaps should be; corporations that have spent millions, if not billions, on advertising an idealized body image just to turn around and sell Americans the “cure” for embarrassment, shame, or body dysmorphia are likely at least somewhat responsible for this belief having taken root in the first place.

It can’t be denied, however, that the threat to America posed by obesity has ballooned. The rate of obesity was 20 points lower at the turn of the millennium; so-called “severe obesity” has more than doubled since that time. For the public health impact of that growth, one need merely turn on the news — although it’s probable that a close friend or family member, if not oneself, is as good an anecdotal example as any.

Statistics quantify the risks of ill health likely already observable in acquaintances; a study published in Obesity Reviews in August of last year found that obese people are 46% more likely to get COVID and 113% more likely to become hospitalized. Non-COVID health complications also apply; the Harvard T.H. Chan School Of Public Health has reported that obesity raises the risk of stroke by 64%, raises the risk of premature death from coronary artery disease in women by 62% (and by a comparable amount in men), and is correlated with a 42% higher risk of Alzheimer’s (among many other risks).

Media Linking Obesity To COVID

In accordance with the above statistics, CNN has now published a report linking obesity to COVID, stating that, “People who are overweight or obese are at a much higher risk of much more severe disease and even death from Covid-19,” and going on to identify obesity as “the second leading cause of preventable death, after smoking.”

The outlet has faced some criticism from others, like Fox News, who called the subject of the article “a connection already well-known from data compiled earlier in the pandemic,” and reported that there have been “recent pushes by some…outlets against the airing of negative views on the body image of those who are overweight.”

If negative body image perceptions result in shame, disempowerment, or otherwise unpleasant feelings that don’t serve their feeler, then those perceptions need not be made valid – it’s a scientific fact, however, that obesity is claiming lives.

Obesity, Mental Health Conditions Co-Occur

Obesity can co-occur with a variety of other conditions. For one thing, sugar addiction (often viewed as a behavioral addiction, though sugar is in and of itself an addictive substance – per Dr. Thompson, “sugar can be more addictive than cocaine”) may coincide with obesity.

Anxiety and symptoms of depression can also co-occur with obesity; the latter may contribute to the former (though the inverse may also be true).

Those looking to manage their weight and/or cut back on sugar have many options available to them. Avoiding processed foods, eating more leafy greens, managing the calculus of calories consumed versus calories burned, and seeking out so-called “good fats” (like the kind that can be contained by fish, nuts, and avocado) can be a strong way to move to a healthier weight and increase longevity along with quality of life.

For those who see food as a valuable part of life and/or a means of expression, and many do, considering the fact that wealthy corporations deliberately make processed foods addictive and unhealthy as a way of keeping consumers dependent and malleable may be helpful in viewing more nutritious choices in a different and more empowering light.

Eating healthily in 2022 could provide a host of mental and physical benefits; eating as well as is within one’s means to do could be a powerful way to make the most of one’s own dietary privilege.

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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