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Guest Post By Dr. J (with Additional Contrarian Input by Crabby McSlacker)
Many of you are already acquainted with the knowledgeable and amusing Dr. J, who blogs over at Calorie Lab. He's a maxillofacial surgeon, as well as a dedicated runner and a pilot. Dr. J kindly sent me a very interesting article he wrote and let me share it here.
And in return for his generosity? I'm gonna jump in afterwards and wrassle with him a little, offering a slightly different take.
Obnoxious? Sure! Stupid? Possibly! Because Dr. J is an actual physician plus he has a black belt in karate.
But Dr. J is also an old blog pal who knows I agree with him on about 98% of health and fitness matters and I suspect I'd have to work pretty hard to get him riled. He's just more of a Tough Love kinda guy than I am when it comes to certain questions of lifestyle and health.
So what's the tussle about?
A study of obesity and life satisfaction that Dr. J dug up suggests: in communities where obesity is common, being obese has little negative effect on life satisfaction.
Wow, right? This I did not know.
Going by everything I've read, I thought it was kinda tough to be obese, and that a lot of things just sucked more, and that people were generally more satisfied with their lives after they'd lost weight.
So, if you're curious to see what the Doctor and the Crab think about all this...
Obesity Loves Company
By Dr. J
With the numbers of overweight and obese individuals now over 2/3 of our population and continuing to rise, rather than feeling out of place with this unhealthy condition, people are more and more seeing this as the norm. When it comes to feeling satisfied with our lives, it is apparent that obesity loves company.
A study "Obesity (Sometimes) Matters: The Importance of Context in the Relationship between Obesity and Life Satisfaction," in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, looked at more than 1.3 million people from across the United States and evaluated their life satisfaction within the county in which they lived and then compared these findings with other counties that had differing levels of obesity.
[Crabby again: note this says "County", not "Country," something I misread at first. Just means we're talking more about prevalence at the community level rather than the national level.]
"Where obesity is more common, there is less difference among obese, severely obese, and non-obese individuals' life satisfaction, but where obesity is less common, the difference in life satisfaction between the obese (including the severely obese) and non-obese is greater," said Philip M. Pendergast, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and co-author of the study. "In that light, obesity in and of itself, does not appear to be the main reason obese individuals tend to be less satisfied with their lives than their non-obese peers. Instead, it appears to be society's response to or stigmatization of those that are different from what is seen as 'normal' that drives this relationship."
If the researchers did not factor in where people live, almost thirty percent of severely obese men and nearly forty-five percent of severely obese women reported that they are very satisfied with their lives. However, in counties where obesity is common this satisfaction level is increased dramatically, albeit with women less than men. Prendergast suggests that this difference in women is due to the media and advertising with the constant use of images of “ideal” thin women.
"The most interesting finding for us was that, in U.S. counties where obesity is particularly prevalent, being obese has very little negative effect on one's life satisfaction," said Pendergast. "In addition, we found that being normal weight has little benefit in counties where obesity is especially common. This illustrates the importance of looking like the people around you when it comes to satisfaction with life."
He also feels that his study adds more evidence to a primary cause of our on-going obesity epidemic.
"Our findings demonstrate that where obesity is most prevalent, the difference in life satisfaction between the obese and non-obese is smaller for women and almost non-existent for men, The same relationship is likely to exist over time and, as such, the emotional cost and advantage of obesity and non-obesity, respectively, may be decreasing as the prevalence of obesity increases. If this is the case, then some of the motivation for remaining thin is lessening over time, perhaps offering further insight into why obesity prevalence has increased so dramatically in recent years."
If obesity becomes our normal state, we best be prepared for a continuing increase in all the severe medical problems associated with it, and likely a shorter lifespan and decrease in our quality of life, because even if obesity does love company, our state of health does not care!
--Thanks so much Dr. J!
Am I just weird? This seems like good news, not bad!
So if you take away the stigma factor, you can be just as satisfied with life if you are obese, even with all the health problems that come with obesity?
Of course there are all kinds of awesome health benefits that come from moving down from obesity into a lower weight range. I highly recommend weight loss for those who are obese and can manage it with reasonable lifestyle changes. You're going to have more energy, less pain and disease, better sleep, you'll live longer, etc. From what I understand, MAJOR benefits come from a 10% loss.
But what if you've been trying all your life to lose weight and can't? And it turns out it's only an illusion that you'll be more happy and satisfied with life if you ever actually succeeded? I would think keeping your diet and activity as healthy as you can, but finding a supportive community rather than focusing on the scale numbers would perhaps be easier?
(Plus you'll need to retrain your brain and dump all the negative crap society's been shoveling at you to mess with your self-esteem all your life. Admittedly, easier said than done.)
OK, I realize my take may sound crazy, and this is just one study so I wouldn't base huge decisions on it. Plus, I think people lie like crazy about things like life satisfaction, and it could be obese people feel more defensive about it.
But I thought the study was intriguing and will be very curious what you all have to say!
Does the notion that obesity doesn't have to affect life satisfaction if it's common seem surprising? Does that seem like good or bad news?