July 26, 2004
Addressing the obesity epidemic
Clinical psychologist Gerard Musante was the first person to adapt the principles of behavior modification to the eating habits of significantly overweight people. For the past 30 years, Dr. Musante has taught these principles at Structure House, the residential weight loss facility he founded in Durham, N.C.
In this Tech Central Station op-ed, Dr. Mustante addresses that the national debate over responsibility for our society's obesity overlooks the effect that the debate has on how individuals perceive their personal battles with being overweight or obese:
[O]ur national debate on obesity is evolving into two camps. One emphasizes that obesity results from such factors as genes, a disease state or physiology. The other focuses on the role personal responsibility plays and possibly defines obesity as a personal failing.
While the first camp paints the individual as a victim of forces beyond his control, the latter argues from a moral or social viewpoint. While I strongly support personal responsibility, even the discourse to this effect fails to address the most critical reason for espousing such a perspective. What is too often absent from both viewpoints is a direct consideration of the ramifications these arguments themselves can have on how individuals view their personal battles with overweight and obesity.
Dr. Mustante points out that the biggest problem is defining the issue as being out of an individual's control:
If one defines a problem as out of his control, then he remains powerless to influence it. However, nearly all experts acknowledge obesity ultimately results from violating a simple principle: calories consumed should equal calories expended. The idea that individuals are victimized by their own bodies or a toxic environment is problematic. For starters, it's untrue. But as importantly, it stymies their motivation and perceived ability to control their weight loss.
The key lies in a related psychological concept called self-efficacy, which was defined by Albert Bandura, a noted Stanford University psychologist, in 1977. He theorized that people's expectations of their ability to be effective influence whether and how they will act. It will affect how much effort they expend, and how long they will sustain their efforts in the face of challenges. If a person believes he lives in a "toxic food environment" or is suffering from a disease state, how can he have confidence in his ability to change his predicament?
Dr. Mastante then points out that "quick fix" diet plans are usually counterproductive to obesity because the personal sense of failure that an individual experiences triggers a false sense that the individual is powerless to overcome the problem. And that false sense of powerlessness is becoming more popular:
Worsening the problem, we now are seeing efforts to sue food establishments, to demonize various industries, and to rid schools of vending machines. By blaming industries and products, society only makes individuals feel increasingly powerless about their ability to lose weight, and that perceived lack of control makes them less likely to attempt or experience success. Frivolous lawsuits against the food industry and the classification of obesity as a disease only reinforce the idea that obesity is something people cannot control.
Read the entire article, and then take a look at this piece in which the authors point out that the obestiy epidemic is partly the unintended consequence on the anti-smoking campaign over the past generation.
Posted by Tom at July 26, 2004 6:44 AM |
Well, I started on a rant and decided I better post it in my own web space (check your track-back). But I did want to drop a comment and say, "Nice site!" and welcome to my blogroll!
Posted by: Joni at July 26, 2004 6:56 PM
Post a comment
Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)