A weighty problem on both sides of debate
Contempt for the too thin and too fatPAUL EASTON AND CHARLEY MANN
Fat or thin, there is no escape from society's demand for the perfect body shape, a physical education expert says.
"They are quite simply everywhere – social commentary, public media, health promotion imperatives, doctors' surgeries, reality downsize me programmes on television, and advertising," says Lisette Burrows, associate professor in health and physical education at Otago University.
"And yes, slim people are just as susceptible to the pressures to remain that way, to keep working on their bodies to ensure they do not turn into the reviled 'fat person'."
Massey University lecturer Cat Pause this week called for "fat hatred" to be banned like racism or sexism.
Fat people had to live in a culture that openly hated them, she said, claiming the relationship between weight and health was complicated and none of the "obesity myths" were backed by science.
But yesterday, Miranda Johnson from Christchurch spoke of the opposite problem – contempt for thin people.
As a school pupil she was teased by teachers and peers for being thin.
Now the 25-year-old, size-6 mother of one, standing 1.67m and weighing 44kg, is too self-conscious to go swimming.
"I love swimming, but I hate getting into the pool in the daylight because people stare at me and I hear them whispering," she said.
Ms Johnson, an interior design student juggling her correspondence study with the care of two-year-old daughter Xanthe, said that even as an adult she was hassled about her weight.
"I have had strangers come up to me in shops and tell me I need to eat something,"
Meanwhile, an American study suggests being skinny is unhealthier than being fat. The University of California Davis research project was based on national health surveys from nearly 51,000 adults from the age of 18 to 90, who were followed for six years.
"Underweight" subjects showed a risk of death twice as high as the participants of normal weight.
People whose body mass index classified them as "severely obese" were just 1.26 times as likely to die as "normal" sized people.
"We hope our findings will trigger studies that re-examine the relationship of being overweight or obese with long-term mortality," health professor Anthony Jerant said.
The Heart Foundation's medical director, Professor Norman Sharpe, said the negative health effects of being overweight were sometimes overstated.
"It's certainly better to be physically active and fit, even if you are a bit overweight."
People in the American study who died of wasting diseases like cancer would have been recorded as underweight, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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