A CDC analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey for 1999-2008 has revealed that a higher percentage of Americans are more obese today, than ever on record. In fact, while 13 percent of adults were obese in the early 1960s, more than 30 percent were by 1999. And the numbers are only more discouraging today.
The reasons for this surge have to be psychological. Americans are not gaining weight because they have fallen victim to abnormalities of blood sugar. They are not blowing up their waist sizes because of an epidemic of hypothyroidism. There's no virus going around.
People are using food as a drug. It's as simple as that. Faced with increased stress from an increasingly technological society that has cut people off from processing their feelings and understanding their lives, they are grasping for whatever comforts they can to try to stay at equilibrium. They are drinking more, using drugs more, gambling more, having more casual sex, still smoking plenty and, perhaps most vigorously of all, eating more.
Lipid molecules, after all, are actually mood stabilizers. You can literally treat some cases of depression with a high-fat diet.
As a society, it seems as though we have agreed upon a conspiracy of silence about this matter-as though we have discovered a socially acceptable way of getting high. We have been told we dare not mention to our children the fact that they are overweight, lest we impact their self-esteem, or trigger anorexia or bulimia later in life. We have been sold a bill of goods about fat being beautiful and that women, in particular, should simply accept their bodies, even when their bodies are so overloaded with fat that it puts them at risk for hypertension and stroke and cardiac disease and breast cancer and Alzheimer's Disease. We applaud yo-yo dieters who blow up to twice their size, then slim down, appear on the cover of People magazine, then blow up again, then slim down, then appear on the cover of People magazine, ad nauseum-as though relapsing to heroin were a virtue. We have come to accept that a significant percentage of men will emerge into their fifth and sixth decades so fat that they look pregnant.
We feel fine railing against alcoholics and smokers and cocaine addicts, but we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by simply stating the obvious: that they are addicted to food and killing themselves with cookies and candy and soda and super-sized portions of anything and everything.
The word has to go out to nurses and physicians and the general public that obese people should be referred to 12-step organizations like Overeater's Anonymous or to psychologists or psychiatrists who deal with addictions. There is always emotional turmoil at the root of anyone's obesity that is not due to a diagnosable physical condition (such as hypothyroidism).
Anything that would be done to break through the denial of an alcoholic should be done to break through the denial of a person addicted to food.
We had better stop our precious political correctness about this. It's costing too many lives and too much money.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Timesbestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com.Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.