Extra weight causes extra strife in individuals, society


Grace Dorsey

It’s the beginning of seventh grade, and junior Allie Woods is trying her best to get out of physical education. This isn’t the first time she’s made up an excuse to sit out, and it certainly won’t be the last because, like a lot of kids, she despises the class.

The endless laps around the gym, the overly-competitive games and the fitness tests all work together to make the 45-minute period some sort of hell. She’d prefer dance or at least something more inspiring. Of course, it didn’t help that Woods, like one in six of America’s youth, according to cdc.gov, was overweight.

Later in her middle school career, Woods decided to try a weight loss program called MonaVie because she wanted a change. Ten pounds later, the supplement juices and shakes stopped working, so Woods started another regiment, Zija.

“It was a tree that they grind up into a powder with all these different probiotics to help you feel better and healthier,” Woods said. “I thought it wasn’t going to work, but my mom talked me into it. So I did it for a couple of months and saw myself lose weight and became obsessed with it. I was like ‘Wow, I feel so much better [and] I look so much better. I just need to keep going.”

At the foundation of these programs is the modern world’s problem with food, specifically too much of it. For Woods, growing up overweight led to insecurity and low self-confidence, but that’s not the only toll a high Body Mass Index (BMI) can take on someone. Family Practitioner Dr. Hanna Gov-Ari has observed the medical effects of extra first hand with many of her patients.

“The main thing is type 2 diabetes. We know that it is directly linked to obesity. Basically people develop insulin resistance because of the fat tissue. We also know that because … when they get surgery for weight reduction — for example gastric bypass — they lose significant weight [and]  some of them actually stop being diabetic,” Gov-Ari said. “There is also hypertension. We know that people that lose weight and exercise their blood pressure potential is at much better control. We have all kinds of musculoskeletal problems like leg, knee and back pain. We know [that for] people who lose weight, that pain will be better.”

While doctors similar to Gov-Ari work to treat the side effects of obesity, they also try to prevent such conditions through educating patients. As with most battles, however, the crusade is multifaceted. Efforts by the government to contain the so-called epidemic have included a 2001 Sturgeon General’s call to action, mandatory nutrition and calorie labeling as well as the setting of guidelines for daily activity and diet. Child obesity specialist Dr. Amy Williams believes in a concentrated push to reduce unhealthy habits and their subsequent impacts.

“I think we are all responsible for helping children including teenagers make healthy decisions. It is true that most of the responsibility should land on the shoulders of the children and their parents, but I think we can help create environments such as inexpensive access to healthy foods and safe/clean places to play sports that can help encourage these behaviors,” Williams said. “What I would like to see is that it not even be a choice or something kids think about. If they grow up make being surrounded by healthy decisions, they will continue those habits as adults.”

For schools like RBHS, this means taking measures such as accessible PE classes, like the addition of fitness walking, and healthier snack options, like calorie and sugar free vending machine drinks. Unfortunately, steps such as these are limited because of students’ power to make their own health decisions.  Secondary District Health Coordinator Christi Hopper encounters such restrictions but remains hopeful that obesity can be combated even without extensive programs.

“In high school physical education, our objective is for students to become lifelong participants in physical activity.  That is why there are different courses for students to choose what interests them,” Hopper said. “In health and physical education we teach kids how to make healthy choices, but we can’t make those choices for them.”

Even with education, either through school or the doctor, the power still mostly remains in a child’s home environment. Parents’ decisions at the grocery store and the gym have a strong hold on not only their kid’s current health, but also their future habits. Elementary District Health Coordinator Patty Cornell has come to this realization that no matter what the school does, kids are most influenced by their parents.

“We talk about what a healthy lifestyle looks like and what the benefits are of living that way. We talk about exercise and nutrition,” Cornell said. “Unfortunately, young children are mostly influenced by the decision of their parents. They don’t have much say in what they eat or the activities they are involved in.”

For Woods, this meant getting encouragement from her mother to take supplements in order to drop the pounds. This might not have been a problem, but Woods became obsessed with losing the extra weight. She was convinced that people would befriend her if the number on the scale kept dropping. Thus, Woods consequently developed an eating disorder.

“The pressure mostly [came from] not being liked. Being overweight, people tend to think of you as lesser than. Guys in general think, ‘I can’t date a girl because she’s fat.’ From a teenage girl’s point of view, it’s like, ‘No one likes me because I’m overweight.’ I think that definitely pressured me to want to lose weight,” Woods said. “Also, one time I was in the car and my uncle was on the phone with my dad, and [he said] ‘Matt you really need to be careful, Allie’s gaining a lot of weight. I’m scared something’s going to happen to her.’ There are certain things that you hear as a child where you take something the completely wrong way.”

As Gov-Ari sees it, the psychological effects that Woods experienced are just as important as the physical ones. Although an analysis of studies published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed overweight or obese people have a greater chance of being depressed, the link was only found in those older than 20. In fact, according to everydayhealth.com, obese adults are 25 percent more likely to develop a mood disorder like depression. Still, Gov-Ari has spotted the social isolation Woods felt in many of her high BMI patients.

“[Psychological side effects from obesity are] one thing that I see a lot in the clinic. It brings a lot of problems with self-esteem and problems with relationships — either personal, boyfriend-girlfriend or just in society,” Gov-Ari said. “People are redrawing from society because they feel very embarrassed. So this is one more aspect that I find very important because once again, if [people] can lose weight and exercise, mentally people will feel better as well.”

Thankfully, Woods was able to get the attention she needed to recover. Looking back on her experience now, however, Woods wishes that those around her realized the severity of her condition sooner.

“I definitely wish I had recognized it earlier or someone else had and forced me to get help earlier,” Woods said. “If you can recognize what’s wrong with yourself before it gets bad, you can change it faster. It took me three years to get through it and at least come out okay whereas if I had [gotten care] in November or December instead of March, I feel like maybe it wouldn’t have gotten so bad, and maybe it would have been easier for me to come out of it.”

How do you think America can handle obesity? Leave a comment below.