Obesity: Personally Responsible or Driven to Eat?

By Sefatsa Qopane

World Obesity Day is observed annually on 11 October. Established in 2015 by the World Obesity Federation, World Obesity Day is an annual campaign that aims to stimulate and support practical actions that will help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reverse the global obesity crisis. Sefatsa Qopane delves into the issue of obesity.

Many people around the world face discrimination because of their body weight, shape and size. Weight gain and loss rely on relatively simple formula related to the amount of energy we take in and use each day. We take in energy by eating. To gain weight, a person must consistently take in more energy each day than he or she uses. To lose weight, a person must consistently burn more energy each day than he or she takes in. This would make it seem like people are indeed personally responsible if they gain weight.

World Obesity Day is observed annually on 11 October and in South Africa the numbers of obese people are steadily escalating with almost 70% of South African women either overweight or obese, the highest rates for women in Africa. The cause appears to be what we consume. As a matter of fact, we ought to be cognisant about what we eat and take care of ourselves. Sugar and fats have been identified as the main culprits. It is an indisputable fact that overweight people are prone to illness, and they cost the economy a lot of money to take care of their well-being.

People with many commitments prefer fast-foods as well as pre-packaged treats – irrespective of how unhealthy they may be. And there is a matter of taste too. Although fast-foods may not be as healthy as the home cooked meals, Oh – they just taste so good.

For some reason, the things we should eat the least, happens to be the same things we crave the most. Studies reveals that the habits we develop during the preceding stages of our lives usually remain with us for life and are the most difficult to relinquish. No wonder most of us still find the fattiest, saltiest, and sugary foods to be the most delectable. The food industry and manufacturers through advertising spend billions of rands each year trying to convince everyone that their food is irresistible. When they succeed, our waistlines often suffer. But most importantly, we should attempt to answer these questions as far as obesity is concerned: are we personally responsible or driven to eat?

Needless to say, the issue of weight gain or loss is not just about how much energy we take in or burn. There is another dimension to take into cognisance, that is, the type of body one has.

There are three broad categories in which body types are generally classified: ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs.

Ectomorphs are generally slender and have a naturally high metabolism (the process that occurs in the body to turn the food a person eats into energy an individual’s body can utilise). That person we all know who can eat and eat and eat, indulge in chips, chocolate, ice-cream and cake, never exercise, and yet never gain an ounce, is probably an ectomorph. These lucky individuals have high metabolic rates, and their bodies burn energy as fast as they can pack in those high-calorie foods.

Endomorphs on the other hand have slower metabolisms. These ones are those who seem to just eat an ounce of high-calorie food and somehow gain a pound. An endomorph, even if he or she eats moderately, exercises, and is very healthy, will probably never look like an ectomorph.

Today, a slow metabolic rate opens wide the door for weight gain and the health risks and discrimination weight acquisition can bring. To a certain degree, metabolism can be adjusted. When you exercise, you increase your metabolic rate, and your body begins to burn energy faster. You can also increase your metabolism by building muscle. So converting fat into muscle causes a corresponding increase in metabolism. A body with more muscle burns more energy even when at rest.

A person with the mesomorph body type is someone between these two extremes.

People who blame and judge others because of overweight and obesity fail to understand these three broad body type categories.

Be that as it may, one of the major contributors to the obesity anomaly is an overall decline in physical activity. No need for fitness facility. An individual can be physically active just by going outside and taking a walk.

Could it be an accurate observation to deduce that the poor get fat, and the rich get slimmer? Probably, and here is why.

Every person is born into this world as a tabula rasa (a blank slate). But very quickly one begins to learn, and in just a few years, one is able to feed and entertain himself or herself largely on one’s own. People do not just naturally know which things are healthy or what leads to weight gain. They need to get this information from somewhere, and the more education a person has, the more information he or she has access to regarding developing and maintaining a good health. People with a high level of education experience certain illnesses and health complications (especially preventable diseases) less often than people with low levels of education. This is because people with more education tend to be better informed about health risks, ways to prevent health problems, and what the body requires to maintain good health.

The people with the most access to information about obesity and how it can be prevented are virtually people of high socioeconomic status with high education levels. If there is no public education campaign bringing information to you, then you have to go out and get that information on your own. The lower your socioeconomic status, the more difficult to access the information sources like health journals, libraries, the Internet and various forms of media and therefore less likely to be educated about obesity, its causes, its health effects, and modes of prevention. Hence, people of low socioeconomic status experience overweight and obesity at greater rates than people of high socioeconomic status. The debate over why this is the case is tendentious.

The type of food that people of low socioeconomic status have access to creates the biggest weight-related health risks for this group. One is more likely to spend money on high-volume, low-cost foods. Unfortunately, many of these foods are low in nutritional value and high in empty calories. Retail stores that sell bulks of food containing high-calorie content, but less healthy, tend to be located in areas inhabited by low income earners. Even if the low income earners want to spend some extra bucks to purchase some healthier groceries, they simply might not have access to these healthy products. Too bad if someone is commuting and there is a dearth of transport to the hypermarket, one is then stuck with only the type of food he or she can purchase within one’s local neighbourhood.

In the lead up to World Obesity Day, we are reminded that it’s important to stimulate and support practical solutions to help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, and to reverse the obesity anomaly. The aim is to increase awareness, encourage advocacy, improve policies, and share experiences.

 

 

More stories in Issue 114

Obesity: Personally Responsible or Driven to Eat?

By Sefatsa Qopane

Many people around the world face discrimination because of their body weight, shape and size. Weight gain and loss rely on relatively simple formula related to the amount of energy we take in and use each day. We take in energy by eating. To gain weight, a person must consistently take in more energy each […]

Contributors

Sefatsa Qopane

Sefatsa Qopane occupies his time working in the spheres of personality and the psychology of difference – both are subjects for which he holds a great penchant. He is also an associate of The Narrative Enneagram (TNE) institute. Sefatsa lives in Pietermaritzburg.

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get notified of new issues.