It should come as no surprise that there is a bias against obese people in our society. This was confirmed by a new study published by the Harvard School of Public Health in which 3,300 children where studied for 10 years from the age of kindergarten in order to see what role weight-gain played in their academic performance. They discovered that although weight-gain had no effect on their test scores, it did result in negative evaluations by their teachers. In particular, this teacher fat- bias resulted in poor evaluations for girls’ reading skills and boys’ math skills, suggesting a gender bias, as well. Also, assessments of boys’ reading abilities were lower if those boys were heavier to begin with, as opposed to those who were just starting to gain weight.

For the most part, weight gain did not affect student confidence in themselves with one exception: girls who became overweight by age 10-11 experienced a sharp reduction in confidence in their math skills when compared to those who had already been classified as overweight to begin with.

Although not part of this study, there have been numerous reports of weight-related bullying in schools, which can have an adverse affect on self-confidence and academic performance.

Obesity has a variety of knock-on affects when it comes to anxiety and depression with higher suicide rates among the obese. Furthermore, they tend to get less education overall and fewer attend graduate school than the norm. This negative impact is more pronounced for girls. Indeed, when they entire the workforce, overweight women are less likely to be hired, more likely to be fired, more likely to receive poor assessment appraisals, and earn less money for the same work.

I’m interested in reading the book, “The Big Fat Surprise”. Apparently, it confirms the growing consensus that eliminating fat from people’s diets has led to the obesity epidemic, because it has been replaced with sugar and carbohydrates, which is far more detrimental. In fact, US carb intake is said to be 25% higher than it was in the 1970’s. Eating fat makes people less likely to crave eating more, which is the other problem with eating carbs (which, ultimately, end up as sugar, anyway). There is a brewing war on refined sugar, too, since it has such detrimental affects on the body, but is used copiously in processed foods.

It seems every nation of the world is experiencing an obesity epidemic. In 2009 a Newsweek article estimated that obesity was costing businesses $45b annually in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Amounts of food consumption and exercise are believed to be the main determinants of weight control, but this may be too simplistic a view.

In particular, it may not simply be the quantity of food, but the way in which it is grown, harvested, and processed. A radical new theory has emerged that our food is becoming increasingly toxic to our bodies and that obesity is a natural form of defence; the body would rather store dangerous elements as fat, rather than risk running them through major organs.

For example, the rampant use of sugar, salt and chemicals (for preservation, consistency, and taste) could be throwing a Malatov Cocktail at our own metabolic processes.

The controversy over GM foods and the manner in which they are fashioned, deployed and tested could reveal interesting insights in the coming years. The enormous pressure to feed increasing populations from shrinking arable land will ensure a prosperous future for GM foods, but this will, also, invite much abuse (if it hasn’t already).

Cultural values are at play, here, too. Once upon a time in the western world, being fat was “voluptuous” and beautiful. This remains true today in many developing countries. As a nation as a whole becomes larger, being fat becomes more acceptable. US garment sizes have already been re-calibrated to make people feel less self-conscious about their body size, despite the fact that an ‘L’ would equate to an ‘XXXL’ in many parts of Asia.

Some are clambering for an obesity tax - either put onto foods that are believed to be the culprit, or on people who are above a certain weight. The justification for this is that obesity is a huge drain on the economy and healthcare - not to mention, extremely detrimental to the person in question.

However, this presumes that obesity is a person’s “fault”; that it comes from a lack of self-control. While this may be true in some cases, it’s more likely that obesity is a systemic problem of some kind, involving many factors. It’s easy to say that being fat is someone’s fault when they’re in the minority; less so, when they are the norm.

Given that obesity is now pandemic, it seems a good time to put it on the political agenda. What should we do? What can we do?

I heard doctor Peter Attia put forth a theory that diabetes could be a pre-cursor to obesity and not the other way around. In particular, he posited that obesity could be a self-defence mechanism of the body to store toxins rather than be forced to ‘process’ them and harm other organs.

This got me thinking, “Could over-indulgence be a form of self-defence?”

For example, aren’t there times when drink and drugs are used to avoid dealing with something else? When you really want to put off doing something, doesn’t binge-watching the television, or having a gluttonous meal help put off that thing we just can’t face? These things make us feel good for a little while, but they also help us to procrastinate, while giving us an excuse not to do what we should’ve been doing in the first place (“I’m to drunk to work”, “I’m to full to do that now”).

When it comes to gluttony, we’ve seen obesity levels skyrocket in industrialised countries. Unhealthy “comfort” foods are always within reach and give us a temporary high. Could this be a self-defence mechanism against all the stresses we face in our daily lives? The long commute, the pressure at work, our responsibilities to our friends and family, our duties as a mother/father/wife/husband…?

The more I think on it, the more I feel that we overindulge so as to avoid.

But, avoidance isn’t a good long-term strategy.