A Brief History of Obesity

Very simply put, being obese means that you have more fat than someone who is overweight. This is because you take in too much energy from food, which your body doesn’t need or use. The impact on your overall physical health is significant and can lead to a range of illnesses. Additionally, it has a significant impact on mental health as well. Interestingly, how obesity is viewed has changed over time and throughout different cultures.

A History of Obesity

While the obesity pandemic is new, obesity itself is not. The Ancient Egyptians saw it as a disease and illness. The Venus figurines used across Roman and Greek cultures were all obese. The Ancient Chinese also knew that obesity was dangers. The Aztecs believed it was a supernatural affliction. All of these cultures knew prevention was better than cure. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, knew that people who were obese were more likely to die young, and he wrote about this.

By contrast, in cultures where there isn’t much food, obesity is a symbol of high social status and wealth. Some African tribes, for instance, purposefully fatten up a pride so that she is more capable of bearing children. Without sufficient weight, she will not be seen as a suitable bride.

The way people have viewed obesity has also differed. Towards the start of the 20th centuries, Paul Poiret, a French fashion designer, became famous and wanted to make sure women could show their skin, making obesity unfashionable. Yet, it was around this time that more people started to become obese. Some 30 years later, a first chart of ideal weights was published by Metropolitan Life Insurance. They also said that people needed to stop believing that weight gain was a normal part of getting older.

Around this time, the government and field of health care started to get involved, campaigning against obesity. This was because a link had been proven between poor heart health and obesity. Since then, the fight has been on. The BMI, which most people know today, was released in 1996 and it continues to be the most widely accepted statistical calculation for obesity. Despite all of this, the amount of people who are classed as obese keeps going up.

Super Size Me was a highly controversial film released in 2004. It was created by Martin Spurlock, who wanted to explore just how prevalent obesity was in the USA. For 30 days, he ate nothing but food from McDonald’s and stopped exercising. When he started, he was lean and healthy. After 30 days, he was overweight and was suffering significant organ damage. The only positive result from this movie was that McDonald’s made some minor changes to its menu.

It seems that, despite the fact that we have known obesity is bad for us for thousands of years, and despite the fact that there are many government, health care and educational programs to combat it, this is a battle we are incapable of winning.

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