It’s no secret that obesity is on the rise. Articles decrying the health threats and deadly nature of obesity and being overweight, as well as how much more common it’s become plaster the covers of newspapers and talk shows.
In 2018, the most recent year from which figures are available, the obesity rate in the US topped 42 percent. Only one state, Colorado, showed an obesity rate below 24 percent.
And in the UK, obesity rates have quadrupled in the past 25 years, with a shocking 62 percent of people rated as either overweight or obese.
But interestingly, it seems most of us don’t notice anymore, or at least we’re not as aware of the obesity issue. Why?
Part of the answer might be because it’s everywhere.
What do you consider fat?
With obesity and being overweight such a common occurrence, it’s perhaps little wonder we fail to notice it so much.
Granted, the push against ‘fat-shaming’ entering the mainstream discourse is a welcome change from a time when overweight people were routinely, often cruelly mocked.
It’s impossible for anyone who hasn’t been there to fully grasp the additional layers of stress and difficulty obese people have to endure just to live their lives.
But is there a danger in society no longer seeing being overweight and obesity as a problem? Are we heading down a dangerous path if we normalize what is after all a dangerous condition?
What is too fat?
Despite the evidence before our eyes of the widespread increase in obesity, and the fact that more and more people are dealing with these issues, we tend to notice it less and less.
One recent US study illustrated in stark terms the failure of people to see the issue of obesity.
A group of Chicago-based women were polled as part of a Rush University Medical Center study, in which they were asked to look a series of nine drawings of women’s bodies of increasing size.
The women, who, it should be noted, were all African-American, were asked to identify which of the drawings represented a woman who was overweight, obese, and ‘too fat’. They were also asked to identify which body drawing best depicted their own size.
It was only the top two most extreme examples of overweight women that the respondents identified as
‘too fat,’ obese or even overweight.
Tellingly perhaps, the women who participated in the study had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 32, which is considered obese – a typical BMI is 18.5-24.9, whereas overweight is 25-29.9, and obese is 30-34.9. A BMI that reaches 35 is classified as morbid or severe obesity.
Setting aside certain complications and critiques of how BMI is used as a measure of obesity, the findings were interesting when it comes to analyzing views of how fat is too fat, or what is considered fat or overweight.
Perhaps even more intriguing, most of the respondents from this group of women failed to correctly identify their own level of body weight based on the drawings, consistently rating themselves lower on the scale.
It’s also worth noting that 56 percent of them were classified as obese (BMI of 30) and 40 percent had overweight levels (BMI over 25) although none of them saw themselves as either obese, overweight, or ‘too fat.’
Acceptance and what is considered fat
So, while acceptance of and compassion for people who have different body types is a great step forward on many levels, there are some other complications with that fact that we simply don’t notice overweight and obesity as much anymore.
As a society and individuals, we simply misunderstand what is too fat.
That’s because obesity and being overweight have tremendous health consequences. Acceptance is nice, but if you love someone who might be overweight or obese, are you really doing them a favor if you ignore the issue or gloss over it?
Health consequences of being overweight or obese
Remember the Chicago study of the women estimating who is or isn’t overweight?
BMI between 25 – 30
Those drawings of women with a BMI between 18 and 24.9 represented a healthy weight profile. But the next group, the overweight ones between 25 and 30 face health issues like:
Increased risk of high blood pressure
Elevated blood sugar
Higher cholesterol levels
Any one of these can lead to serious health consequences. Yet if the person has any co-morbidities like hypertension or a history of diabetes in their family, their risks are compounded.
BMI between 30 – 34.9
A person with a BMI between 30 and 34.9 is considered obese, and they face a whole host of potential health issues.
Diabetes: A poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and obesity is the top risk factor for developing it.
Stroke: A meta-study of 25 other studies that had over 2.3 million participants showed that obesity increases the risk of a stroke by 64 percent.
Cancer: Cancer is the number two biggest killer in the US just behind heart disease, and obesity is believed to be a contributing factor in 20 percent of new cancer diagnoses.
Depression: Loads of studies have demonstrated a link between depression and weight gain, being overweight, and obesity.
Respiratory disease: Sleep apnea and asthma are both linked to obesity.
It’s worth mentioning as well that the strain of obesity on the healthcare industry is not insignificant. Obesity-related issues are believed to cost the US $130 billion annually.
But especially in times of a global pandemic, when hospitals and medical workers are already stretched thin, issues related to obesity that are treatable in normal times could be the difference between life and death.
Visceral fat vs subcutaneous fat
Subcutaneous fat is the kind you can feel under the skin, and while it isn’t particularly attractive, it’s not terribly dangerous either. What you do need to worry about is called visceral fat.
Visceral fat is the densely-packed kind that’s stored around your organs. It’s in a contained space so when you accumulate more of it, there’s nowhere for it to grow without pressing dangerously on your liver, intestines and pancreas.
This type of fat is described as metabolically active, as it releases hormones and inflammatory substances, contributing to Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and certain types of cancer like colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
Guys especially are at risk for developing too much visceral fat. If you’ve got a classic beer belly, that’s because you’ve got a lot of visceral fat.
A good baseline for understanding how much visceral fat you’ve got is to measure your waist circumference, between the top of your hip bones and the bottom of your rib cage.
If you’ve got more than 40 inches there – 35 for women – you’re probably carrying too much visceral fat.
Am I too fat? And what can I do about it?
Luckily, our understanding of what causes weight gain and how to effectively lose weight is better than ever.
Turn off the TV – A University of Massachusetts study showed that people eat an average of 280 more calories per sitting when they eat in front of the television.
Count your calories – Making a shift from eating chips or cookies out of the bag and instead measuring out a set amount can make a huge difference in how much you eat.
Go hard on the veggies – Fill half your plate with veggies.
Lose the starch – Simply dropping unrefined grains like pasta, white rice and white bread and switching to their whole grain counterparts like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal can make a huge dent in your caloric intake.
Go fast – Consider adding some fasting to your routine. Whether it’s intermittent fasting or another variation, it can make big difference.
Lean on the lean – Going with lean chicken, turkey, beans and soy for your protein instead of beef and pork can help tremendously if you’re wondering what is too fat.
Lose the fast food – Come on, guys, it’s time already to cut out the fast food. It’s terrible for you on so many levels, but if your mind is on the question of how fat is too fat, cutting out fast food is a huge first step.
Skip the soda – Another kind of no-brainer: Sugary drinks like soda are more dessert than beverage and add hundreds of empty calories to your diet.
Skip the beer – This one is a little tough, but if you’re ready to get serious about dropping the gut, think about taking a booze break for a little while, or at least cutting out beer and beverages that are heavy on calories. Straight liquor is your friend!
Blitz yourself better!
This article contains general nutritional tips and advice. However, no diet or exercise program should be started without consulting your physician or other industry professional first. For more information read our full disclaimer here.