Why are Americans so concerned about weight? It’s not just because thinness is portrayed as ideal. Overweight and obesity are public health concerns because of the increased likelihood of concurrent diseases and increased likelihood of death. People who are overweight are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and decreased reproductive health. Of women in the United States, 63% are overweight, 36% are obese, and 8% are extremely obese.
What is it like for overweight women trying to lose weight in the US? Challenging. Society’s negative views of overweight and obesity create more than just physiological barriers for women who are motivated to become healthier. Overweight and obese women are oppressed by stress and anxiety from stigma, more than those of women of normal weight. The American culture is the most powerful factor that contributes to how, when, and why people eat and the amount they exercise they perform.
The easiest way to understand overweight and obesity is as results from an energy imbalance. While the body needs a certain amount of calories from food to maintain basic life functions, people continuously eat and drink more calories than they burn. How and where we live also affect our energy balance. Our new living environments require a lot more driving and a lot less walking. These lifestyle changes tip the energy balance towards weight gain. Our energy imbalances are a result of eating habits, our bigger portion sizes, and our food selections, which are mostly full of calories from high-fructose corn syrup and refined fats. Not only are they full of calories, they contribute to the changing patterns of food consumption – how and what we eat.
It is easy to understand weight gain and loss through the lens of energy balance. However it is more complex than that, which is why we need more comprehensive treatment and prevention. Other treatments might be related to behavioral, nutritional, surgical, or pharmaceutical…but not everybody has access to these strategies. I know I’ve said this before, but I will say it again – Yoga provides overweight women with many means to change their lifestyle and decrease their weight. Yoga is becoming a part of our American culture. Our culture affects our eating and exercise habits. Let’s pick this new part of our culture to influence our lifestyle habits.