Obesity as Social Stigma

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Obesity as Social Stigma Compulsive overeating (binging but not purging) is most often considered a bad habit that can easily be changed. On the contrary, compulsive overeating is an eating disorder that is more properly defined as an addiction rather than a simple habit. Overeaters use eating as a means of hiding from their emotions and coping with the stress and problems of their lives, turning to food for comfort. Compulsive overeating is characterized by uncontrollable eating that results in weight gain that may lead to obesity. According to the American Obesity Association (2002), obesity is a “complex, multi-factorial chronic disease involving environmental (social and cultural) and genetic, physiologic, metabolic, behavioral and psychological components.” AOA points out that approximately 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, with 60 million being obese. Overweight is defined as a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or more and obesity is 30 or more. Added to the health problems engendered by excess body weight is the social stigmatization faced by excessively overweight people, mainly young women and youngsters. A 2001 scientific study found “clear and consistent stigmatization, and in some cases discrimination….in three important areas of living: employment, education and healthcare” (Obese people suffer bias…). In addition, overweight and obese people are portrayed in a negative way in the media, including television and movies. Sociocultural influences on body image can lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and even obesity if an overweight viewer does not feel that she or he are living up to the culturally desirable image. The end result is a serious psychological as well as health issue. While obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, overweight among adolescents has tripled. The United States Office of the Surgeon General (2001)
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