Life + Arts

Prof: obesity epidemic proof of societal values

The obesity epidemic is more a moral issue than a health issue, said assistant sociology professor Samantha Kwan in a press release.

Kwan said that culture defines what is fat and unattractive, and modern society considers being overweight unattractive and unhealthy.

‘The obesity epidemic benefits the medical industry, and it has medicalized the treatment of obesity,’ Kwan said.

Obesity has been linked to several diseases, such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and certain cancers, the National Institute of Health reports.

Both the NIH and Kwan agree the body mass index is an unreliable way to diagnose obesity.

‘The use of the BMI has resulted in the media greatly overstating the rise of the condition,’ Kwan said.

The BMI is the ratio of a person’s weight to his or her height. NIH considers BMI of 25 to 29 to be overweight, while a BMI of 30 to 39 is considered obese. A BMI of under 25 is considered healthy.

‘There’s a lot of confusion regarding nutrition information, and consumers often get conflicting messages about diet and activity,’ Kwan said. ‘There is some evidence that the food industry sometimes uses the same strategies as the tobacco industry to mislead consumers.’

NIH studies found most Americans are overweight because of eating large food portions. The organization determined that packaging of food can cause people to eat more than they intended.

‘Feeling like they’re unattractive is a big problem women struggle with, and a lot of this has to do with beauty ideals,’ Kwan said. ‘Yes, there is a culture out there that says women are supposed to look a certain way. Research shows that promotions and wages are based partly on the way women look, including their weight.’

Some female UH students feel the stigma of being overweight is starting to relax a little.

‘There are a lot more role models who are coming out and embracing their curves,’ Jennifer Doan, a first year pharmacy student, said.

Still, several UH women said there is a lot of pressure to look thin.

‘Obesity will always be a problem because that is what we biologically want women to look like,’ Quynh Vo, a first year pharmacy student, said.

Some students find the pressure comes from home and not society. Parents of former figure skater, Tracy Ngu, watched her to make sure she did not gain weight after she quit skating.

‘Many figure skaters gain weight after they stop skating full time, but I think that pressure comes from who we hang out with,’ Ngu, a freshman chemical engineer, said. ‘If you hang out with a lot of thin women then that can pressure you to be thin as well.’

Freshman chemical engineer Christina Smith said she believes society plays a role in how women view themselves and their bodies.

‘Just going to the mall can have stigma. Most of the stores cater to smaller sizes,’ Smith said.

Smith said she believes society should embrace a more diverse range of appearances.

‘There is not one definition of beautiful,’ she said, ‘Every one is beautiful.’

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