Obesity has been with us for centuries and, until recently, it has not been seen as a significant problem. Today however, as obesity continues to rise alarming in the West, it has become a problem of quite major proportion.
In the Unites States alone nearly two-thirds of the adult population is now classed as being overweight and half of these (more than 60 million people) are obese. Of most concern however is the growing number of people who are now suffering from morbid obesity, with its associated pressure on medical facilities and ever rising cost. Indeed it is estimated that obesity today costs the United States in the region of $120 billion a year, making it comparable to the economic cost of cigarette smoking.
History, particularly that of Europe and the Mediterranean, shows that obesity was viewed previously in a very different light, with obese women in particular often being seen as possessing magical powers and playing a central role in many ritual ceremonies.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries obesity was often seen as a symbol of wealth and of high social status and increasingly began to signify an individual with a “lust for life".
As we moved into the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century obesity was frequently seen as indicating a warm and dependable personality and a “jolly" spirit.
In modern Western culture however an obese individual is no longer seen as an affluent or fun loving figure, but rather as a gluttonous (and thus somewhat evil) figure, who is often thought to be lazy and stupid.
Whatever the general view of obesity, one thing is certainly true – obesity, and in particular morbid obesity, has become something of a pandemic and, while rates remain low in many Eastern countries, even here, rates are beginning to rise.
The reasons for this rise in morbid obesity are many and varied but center largely on the fact that many people are now far less active than they used to be, preferring to sit on the touchline and watch sport rather than get out and play themselves, or to jump in the car when they need a bottle of milk or a newspaper, rather than walk down to the corner shop.
In addition, the drop in the cost of food as a proportion of income and the ready availability of, and sophisticated marketing for, a huge variety of fast and convenience foods makes it a simple and often pleasurable experience to consume far more calories than we are burning off each day.
Today's answer to the problem of morbid obesity is weight loss surgery, which itself is of course becoming an increasingly attractive options as technology advances and open surgery is being replaced by what many see as relatively simple “keyhole" alternatives. The popularity of surgery as a solution is also helped along by a growing list of celebrities taking this particular route.
Sooner or later we will have to decide on a course of action to counter the growth in morbid obesity by tackling the root cause of the problem rather than simply promoting what can only ever be a short-term solution.
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