Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Defining Disease: Obesity vs. Eating Disorders

Reading the passages from Conrad's book and our class discussion made me think about the reasons we use to determine whether or not something is a disease. Particularly, I find it interesting that most people in the US would more readily label eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia as diseases whereas the definition of obesity as a disease is usually up for debate. Both eating disorders and obesity come from unhealthy eating habits and result in an array of symptoms that can lead to death and decrease life expectancy, but being obese or overweight has become more accepted as a lifestyle choice rather than a medical disease. 

I think this issue of defining disease may come down to what (or who) we believe is responsible for the symptoms. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are widely viewed as stemming from a mental disorder such as depression, whereas people who are obese are commonly seen as being personally responsible for making the choice to overeat. This is illustrated by the fact that people who are very thin, either naturally or unnaturally, are more likely to hear comments on their body type and encouragements to eat more from both strangers and people they know, but it is uncommon for anyone to point out a person who is overweight or obese and encourage them to eat less. I've always found this surprising. I would think that it would be the other way around since our society values being thin so much. Maybe because obesity is seen as a result of personal faults like being lazy or undisciplined people are less sympathetic and less concerned about the health of those who are obese, and see it as a personal problem, as opposed to those who could be anorexic or bulimic and generally are offered more outside help such as drugs and inpatient treatment to cure the disease.

4 comments:

  1. I agree that the debate over whether obesity should be viewed as a legitimate disease is based on the fact that many members of society believe that obesity is caused by a lack of personal responsibility regarding calorie intake and exercise. When someone thinks of anorexia, the image that they conjure up is often that of an innocent, young girl who lacks control over what she is doing to her body and health. However, when a person thinks of obesity, they often think of a lazy person who is choosing to be that way. Despite the fact that anorexia and bulimia also involve the same choices and are equally life threatening, they are more likely to be seen as being caused by societal pressures resulting in distorted self-images. I believe that obesity can very much be a mental illness, just as anorexia and bulimia are. I also believe that obesity will soon become classified as a disease just as diseases such as alcoholism have. Alcoholism was once seen as a personal choice, but is now viewed as a disease, allowing people who suffer from the addiction to receive the treatment that they need. Once obesity is classified as a disease, the stigma surrounding its causes should decrease and people will be able to receive more help.

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  2. The discussion on how society views obesity versus thinness is a very interesting one. While obesity is largely understood to be a result of personal choices, we have clearly learned before the break that there are many other factors that contribute to making people gain weight. After Monday's lecture, I am curious to how the classification of obesity as a disease might influence policy, social stigma, and personal choice. What kind of consequences would there be for corn producing giants, such as Monsanto, if society deemed that it was contributing to obesity as a disease? What kind of psychiatric and awareness groups would be set up to combat obesity? What would it mean for America if 2/3 of adults were suddenly deemed to have a disease?

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  3. I absolutely agree with you, both being thin and being obese is a choice. I think that some people look at obese people and think that they are that way because of another health issue which led them to gain weight. Whereas thin people battling with eating disorders choose to lead unhealthy lifestyles to achieve a certain image. I also think that we don't consider obesity as a disease because in our society where the ideal image is being thin, we wouldn't think of someone who does the opposite to gain weight as their ideal. We also don't point out to obese people to eat less because most of the time they claim that they are on some sort of diet and are in the process of trying to loose weight. I think that we tell thin people to eat because it is easier to gain weight rather than loose it but we don't understand that it is as hard for thin people with eating disorders to eat as it is for obese people not to eat.

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  4. I agree with you completely on this topic, being obese should be considered along with anorexia and bulimia as a disease. While there are many factors that go into becoming obese, most of them stem from mental issues rather than personal choice. For example, obese people are sometimes extremely stressed or extremely depressed or have been through some traumatic event and for some reason their body's reaction is to constantly eat to take away whatever pain they are going through and provide them with comfort. Along those same lines, people with anorexia and bulimia go though the same type of thing however they react different, by not eating at all or trying so hard to lose weight. I feel as though there are a lot more social and personal reasons associated with these disorders rather than obesity because people with anorexia and bulimia, a lot o them just hate their body image and want to lose weight but eventually it can get out of control. There should be the same amount of available help for people who are obese as for people who are anorexic or bulimic.

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