Facts & Fictions in Mental Health: Environment and Weight; September / October 2009; Scientific American Mind; by Hal Arkowitz; Scott O. Lilienfeld; 2 Page(s)
Obesity is a "global epidemic," according to the World Health Organization. Two thirds of American adults and one third of school-age children are either overweight or obese (defined as extremely overweight). These proportions have been rising steeply, report the latest surveys. From 1960 to 2002 the population of overweight and obese adults increased by roughly 50 percent, and the corresponding increase for children was 300 percent. Compounding the problem, obesity rates in other countries are rapidly approaching those in the U.S.
What is causing this pandemic, and what can we do about it? Researchers have provided some tentative answers that fly in the face of commonly held beliefs. They suggest that the increase in obesity may be a result of environmental changes that tempt us into unhealthy habits and tend to overwhelm our psychological defenses against consuming too much and succumbing to fattening fare. In fact, environmental cues can exacerbate any innate tendency to use food as a balm for jittery nerves or sadness. Thus, many health experts advocate legislation—for instance, a tax on junk food—that promotes healthy eating. Others are trying to help individuals change their immediate eating milieu in ways that discourage overeating.