"Our results indicate that assortative mating is common among parents of extremely obese children and adolescents, ascertained between 1995 and 1997. In addition, the parental loading on the tenth decile is most prominent for the most obese children." (p. 345)
Moreover, recent research by 12 Dallman suggests that high levels of stress over a long period of time (such as those caused poverty, chronic trauma and childhood abuse) can create changes in the brain that causes the body to redistribute its fat stores to the abdominal area and increases sucrose (sweets) appetite. Ironically, the stigma from being fat, especially as a child, and the consequent vulnerability to ongoing bullying and abuse by peers can set this viscous cycle in motion or exacerbate it early on.
Imposing actuarial based statistics normed on people who carried life insurance policies in 1983 on people who have been shunned for being different (fat) since childhood only reinforces the abusive cultural and familial messages that have already been internalized by most large people.
In any other "epidemic", would we blame the people who are "afflicted"? If not, then why is this one different? Perhaps because we prefer to believe that we all have conscious control over out weight.
Actually, it is our lifestyle, which is reinforced by the very structures we live and work in - our cities and towns and suburbs - that is the primary influence in this "epidemic". There was no such epidemic among hunter gatherers, and we are physiologically mostly the same now as we were 100,000 years ago. The three biggest environmental influences on obesity are: medication side effects, activity level and regularity of physical exercise, and food additives, such as transfats, that our bodies were not designed to digest. All of these factors are predominantly influenced by cultural forces - sedentary jobs, lack of leisure time, long sedentary commutes, the availability of fast foods to compensate for the lack of leisure time, medications to address the diseases caused by a sedentary yet overly busy lifestyle.
The Associated Press cites obesity expert Tom Farley, the author of Prescription for a Healthy Nation , who says "research in the field has moved away from the notion of personal responsibility to the idea of creating environments that foster healthy living....Physical activity has been engineered out of our world...It should be natural and normal to be physically active, instead of having to go to the gym."
"The solution to obesity is not that everyone should run a marathon," says Michael Earls, co-author of a report by Trust for America's Health. "It's the little things that begin to make a dent in the problem, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or riding your bike to work. If a city or town is built in such a way that it forces residents to drive long distances, instead of walking or cycling, then physical activity becomes something that has to be planned rather than an activity which can be woven into the fabric of everyday life," he said.
I would add to these suggestions that we, as a culture, should confront this needless cruelty in ourselves and each other, and transform our living environments into places that are accepting of differences. To do so, we might need to change the way we live, and stop relying on passive entertainment and fast foods paid for by industries that profit off of our self and body loathing. We might have to look to each other for recreation and community instead.
Judy Lightstone is, M.F.T is a licensed Marriage, Family, Child Counselor. She has a private practice where she works with individuals and couples. Permission for use granted by Judy Lightstone.