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Social and psychological reasons for obesity

The complete reason behind obesity is a complicated interaction between social, psychological and physiological elements. Here is a survay of the most important social and psychological components causing over-weight.


Even though the direct causes of over-weight are physical, the society is in great extend guily in exposing people for these physical causes, or for forcing people into an unhealthy lifestyle that make them expose themeselves for the physical causes of over-weight.

We are often told that propaganda through mass media establishes the super-thin anorectic indiviudual as a standard, and induces a discrimination against persons having an averidge weight.

It is true that this type of propaganda exists. However, it is however not true that the averidge culture of the western societies holds the anorectic body type as an ideal, and discriminate people not being downright anorectic. It is true that a few people succumb to the effect of this propaganda, but far more people succomb to the quite opposite type of propaganda and culture, and develop an over-weight to please the society.

In many societies or in some social classes or families over-weight is unfortunately regarded as the normal state for a human being, and a person not being obese is erronously regarded as unnormal or unhealthy. At the same time people with a healthy weight are erronously regarded as under-weight and even anorectic.

In such societies children are systematically given food with a too high amount of fat and sugar, and the unfortunate norm is also reinforced during the socialization of each child by constant verbal repetiton.

In these societies unhealthy eating habits are installed into every person through the standard education and socialization from early childhood and they are also constantly reinforsed by an endless stream of commercials through all mass media.

Even healthy personal tend to share the unhealthy standards, they are ofte themselves sickly over-weight and they enforse tha bad standards though the daily interactions with their patients. Health personal and other actors in these societies will also often even seriously worn healthy weighted persons that thay are too thin and tell them in a serious tone that they have to gain weight and often they even force healthy weighed people to gain weight.

The modern European and American societies unfortunately are among the societies with this type of unhealthy, misunderstood or even fraudolent standards

In many societies these unhealthy standards are so firmly embedded in every aspect of the culture, that many people not even know what healthy eating habits or healthy foods are. They think that the normal food of the society, loaded with high amounts of sugar and fat is healthy, and need to be specially educated to understand that there are other and more healthy choises than those imposod by the society.

Such unhealthy eating standards are also maintained because someone have an economical gain from them.

Society makes people over-weight  by selling food of law nutritional value and containing unhealthy components. Steadily more people base their meals upon ready made food. The producents of this kind of food allways try to give you as little value as possible and prising the products as high as possible. The result is that people actually pay an over-prize for a combination of salthy water, fat of the cheapest kind and carbohydrates of the cheapest kind, and with additives that ease the production process and make the food capable of being stored for a long time.

These standards have a history back to times where they had some logical reason. In former days, the supply of food could be unsecure in many societies. At times there were plenty of food, at other times little. At those time it could be reasonable to gain weight in times of overflood and then live on the fat gained in times of less food suply. Being fat could mean greater chance of survival when the times got worse

In our time, however, these standards do not have any survival value anymore. On the contrary, one only gets the health drawback of being over-weight, and nothing more by following such standards.

To breake and oppose these standards, one must have the courage to refuse much of the food that the society offers, and substitute more healthy food. This is not done without resistance form a society that gets offended and loose economical proffit by such a conscious choise.


If a child lacks some essetial need in its early infancy, and this lack is never compensated in a real manner, the person as a child and later as a grown up will try to compensate the loss by some false means. Over-eating can be such a false compensation for something lacking in early infanthood.

The missing factors  can be of several kinds, but one factor may be of greatest importance: Many small children miss breastfeeding, and many children do not get enough physical contact skin against skin  with their parents or other people. A reason for this deficiency is he demand for disipline the modern society makes from the parents regarding working hours and regarding other kinds of duty.

Another reason for this lack by children of necessary body contact with other human beings, is a misinterpration that body contact is equal to sexual abuse. In the modern society misunderstanding health autorities and other authorities  systematically frighten adullts from having skin contact with children, and also frighten children from seking bodily contact with adults and other children.

Still another reason for lack of necessary body contact by children is a misunderstanding that body contact is unhygienic, or exaggerated standards of hygiene.

Of course, a missing need in adult life can also cause a person to over-eat. Any missing need that give this effect, for example the lack of a lover.

Obesity because of missing needs have a tendency to reinforce itself . The obesity often makes it more difficult to achieve the thing missed in the first place. Then to confort himself, the obese person over-eats still more, making the obesity steadily more severe.


Sexual abuse is nowadays invoked as a standard explanation for all kinds of problems in the western societies, including obesity. In most cases this explanation is probably false. Still, in some cases it may be right.

The psychological dynamics in those cases where this explanation holds, may be the following: The child recognizes that the attractiveness of its own body is the source fo the abuse. Then the child decides to make itself unattrctive by means of over-eating to prevent further abuse. This pattern will then persist into adulthood, often whithout being concious  anymore.

Sexual abuse is of course only one kind of abuse a child or adult person can be subjected to. Many people live in a situation of constant violence, or threats of being subjected to violence. In these cases a person may over-eat to confort himself, or he may over-eat to get a physical shield of fat as a protection against the violence. The pattern of over-eating caused by such a situation can persist also when the threatening situation has passed, either because of pure habit, or because the fear of violence still persists.


No society is totally safe, and every human being feel a need for more safty in its daily life. Over-eating makes the body greater, and the fat has the ability to work as a kind of shield against physical threats. Some people will therefore be tempted to over-eat to get a shield of fat against physical dangers. To a certain degree this thought is right. A thick layer of fat polstering the body will to some extend work as a physical shield. However, this logic is not complete. The health dangers form the excessive fat are greater than the protection it gives.

In the earliest times of the human species, the supply of food was unsecure. Therefore every human being had a natural instinct to eat as much as possible and get fat when food was present. When the times then got leaner, he could use the accumulated fat as an energy source, and doing so get slim again. Even though the supply of food usually is abundant and constant in a modern western societies, this instincive measure against starvation is still present in a modern mans psychological workup. The result is a constant temptation to over-eat because of the fear of starvation.


In the latest years the medical community and the educational system also have contributed heavily to propagate and reinforce habits leading to obesity.

The people in the western societies has in the last decades gain in average weight, and this gain result mostly from individuals being steadily more fat, such that the average man and women in our societies frankly speaking are obese to some extend. The fact that most beople are over-weight mislead people to believe that such a state also is good and healthy and that people that are not over-weight are unhealthy. Also authorities are mislead to believe so. Mislead health authorities then have a tendency to encourage people to gain an unhealthy weight, and to disencourage over-weight people from making an efford to get rid of their over-weight.

Anorexia has for some years been of an exaggerated interest of the authorities. A Healthy body shape and healthy eating habits have for a long time erronously been interpreted as symptoms of anorexia by authorities in the western socieries, and the same authorities have consequently reinforced unhealthy habits as a preventive meaure against anorexia.

The health care system also generally ignores bad eating habits and often propagate such habits as an ideal. The result of this is that most persons do not even know what is healthy food and what is not.

People having a healthy body shape and observing healthy diet habits have also since long been sytematically attacked by authorities of many kinds and accused for misleading the youth into an unsound body awareness and into habits leading to anorexia.

But stop, will many say, are there not many health care workers spreading good information through the mass media. Well this is right, but the health care workers people meet in their dayly life, behave in quite the opposite way.

The result is that most young persons allready are over-weighted, and when they have reach a mature age, they are even more over-weighted.

Sometimes, however, children became catastrophically over-weight, so that their lives are emmergently threatened, and much more over-weighted than the health care personal caring for them. Then the health care system reacts and blames the parents for this situation created by the society, calling them child abuser and the like.

Many of the authority persons leading such attacks are themselves tragically obese, and the underlaying psychological drive for their campain against an healthy lifestyle is surely a envy of persons having succeeded in keeping themselves in good shape.

Bad social standards, often reinforced by misunderstanding health authorities, are the direct cause of many peoples obesity.

By knut Holt

The culture and history of obesity

(This information is mostly fetched form, and is as such free for reuse)

Etymology of the words obesity and obese

Obesity is the nominal form of obese which comes from the Latin obesus, which means stout, fat, or plump. Esus is the past participle of edere (to eat), with ob added to it. Its first attested usage in English was in 1651, in Noah Biggs's Matæotechnia Medicinæ Praxeos.

Obesity in history

In the early prehistory when the human beings were hunterers, the lean, dynamic and muscularly profiled type of human shape seemed to have been the predominant ideal, both for men and women. Early paintings and other art from this period clearly point to this. And example of this, is the art from the Kreatean cultures and from the early Greek cultural periods.

When however, the societies began nourishing themselves from agriculture, and a complicated social hierarchy with rich and poor people developed, the general nutritional situation worsened. The poor got undernourished, the rich got obese and overnourished.

From this situation, obesity gradually developed as a perverted status symbol in European culture. The physical status of the unhealthy obese rich people come to be seen as something attractive to aim at for the equally unhealthy, undernourished poor people.  This situation did not develop equally early in all societies. Many societies managed to keep the original healthy attitude towards the human body for a long time.

From this time on, in several human cultures, obesity come to be associated with physical attractiveness, strength, and fertility. Some of the earliest records of this new ideal are Venus figurines, pocket-sized statuettes representing an obese female figure. Although their cultural significance is unrecorded, their widespread use throughout the earliest times of the complicated stratified Mediterranean and European cultures suggests that the obese female now had got a central role in culture and ritualism. This role was perhaps coupled with the observation that unhealthy obese females after all were more able to bear children than unhealthy undernourished females.

Obesity was considered a symbol of wealth and social status also in other in cultures prone to food shortages or famine. Well into the early modern period in European cultures, it often served this role. But as food security was realized, it came to serve more as a visible signifier of lust for life and appetite, and immersion in the realm of the erotic.

This was especially the case in the visual arts, such as the paintings of Rubens (1577–1640), whose regular depiction of fat women gives us the description Rubenesque. Obesity can also be seen as a symbol within a system of prestige. The kind of food, the quantity, and the manner in which it is served are among the important criteria of social class. In most tribal societies, even those with a highly stratified social system, everyone - royalty and the commoners - ate the same kind of food, and if there was famine everyone was hungry. With the ever increasing diversity of foods, food has become not only a matter of social status, but also a mark of one's personality and taste."

Contemporary culture and attitued towards obesity

In modern Western culture, the obese body shape is widely regarded as unattractive. Many negative stereotypes are commonly associated with obese people, such as the belief that they are lazy, stupid, or even evil, gluttony being the second of the seven deadly sins. Obese children, teenagers and adults face a heavy social stigma. Obese children are frequently the targets of bullies and are often shunned by their peers. Obesity in adulthood can lead to a slower rate of career advancement. Most obese people have experienced negative thoughts about their body image, and many take drastic steps to try to change their shape, including dieting, the use of diet pills, and even surgery.

Not all contemporary cultures disapprove of obesity. There are many cultures which are traditionally more approving (to varying degrees) of obesity, including some African, Arabic, Indian, and Pacific Island cultures. Especially in recent decades, obesity has come to be seen more as a medical condition in modern Western culture even being referred to as an epidemic.

Recently emerging is a small but vocal fat acceptance movement that seeks to challenge weight-based discrimination. Obesity acceptance and advocacy groups have initiated litigation to defend the rights of obese people and to prevent their social exclusion. Some notable figures within this movement, such as Paul Campos, argue that the social stigma surrounding obesity is founded in cultural anxiety, and that public concern over health risks associated with obesity are inappropriately used as a rationalization for this stigma.

Obesity in popular culture and enertainment

Obesity is often humorized in cartoons.Various stereotypes of obese people have found their way into expressions of popular culture. A common stereotype is the obese character who has a warm and dependable personality, but equally common is the obese vicious bully (such as Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter book series, Eric Cartman from South Park, Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons). Gluttony and obesity are commonly depicted together in works of fiction. In cartoons, obesity is often used to comedic effect, with fat cartoon characters (such as Piggy, Porky Pig, Tummi Gummi, and Podgy Pig )having to squeeze through narrow spaces, frequently getting stuck or even exploding.

A more unusual example of obesity-related humour is Bustopher Jones, the fat cat, from the musical Cats, whose claim to fame is that he is a regular visitor to many gentlemen's clubs including Drones, Blimp's and the Tomb. Due to his constant lunching at these clubs, he is remarkably fat, "a twenty-five pounder... And he's putting on weight everyday." Another popular character, Garfield, a cartoon cat, is also obese for humor. When his owner, Jon, puts him on diets, rather than losing weight, Garfield slows down his weight gain.

It can be argued that depiction in popular culture adds to and maintains commonly perceived stereotypes, in turn harming the self esteem of obese people. A charge of discrimination on the basis of appearance could be leveled against these depictions.[citation needed]

On the other hand, obesity is often associated with positive characteristics such as good humor (the stereotype of the jolly fat man like Santa Claus), and some people are more sexually attracted to obese people than to slender people (see chubby culture, fat admirer).