Too Much Awareness?

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This topic belongs in the “Everything You Know Is Wrong” category, especially during the official Childhood Obesity Month. Is there such a thing as too much awareness? Dr. Eric Robinson of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, set out to “test the common assumption that being ignorant to one’s weight status is always a bad thing,” as he told Reuters journalist Madeline Kennedy.

The research team learned that people who perceive themselves to be overweight are at greater risk for weight gain. This holds true whether they actually are overweight, or not, although the people who actually are overweight are more likely to gain.

The U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health provided data on 4,000 young Americans. The meta study also consulted a study called Midlife in the United States, and the U.K. National Child Development Study. The latter followed its subjects from age 23 until 45, although the followup periods of the other two studies were shorter (7 years, and 9 to 10 years).

Methodology

In any soft-science meta study, a considerable amount of number-crunching has to be done to persuade figures to line up in such a way that they can usefully be compared with other figures. Kennedy wrote:

The researchers also used demographic information to control for factors such as sex, age, race/ethnicity, education level, income, and health conditions… The study team sought to control for factors known to increase the risk of weight gain and found that the results were not due to outside psychological, health, or environmental factors.

As we mentioned, there is a great need for research that is both long-term and more detailed, to keep track of the ever-increasing number of variables. To get involved with a longitudinal study is not the smartest career move. In an atmosphere where credentials are everything, the best practice is regular and frequent publication, even if there is nothing much to report. To invest the capital of time and brainwork in something that will not come to fruition for 50 years takes real commitment.

Longitudinal studies are more necessary than ever, but they need a stable population, an environment with at least some degree of continuity, dependable funding, and a secure storage place for the data. Those are not wartime conditions. Contrary to the comic-book mad scientist stereotype who thrives on chaotic destruction, scientists have an enormous stake in maintaining peace.

Vicious cycles

The 2015 study also learned that overweight people are more likely than others to use overeating as a tool for coping with stress. Consciousness of being overweight, said Dr. Robinson, “is in itself likely to be quite stressful.” The researchers suggest that this accounted for a big share of the weight gain. Also very stressful is the experience of being or feeling discriminated against, and indeed prior studies indicted that the perception of being a target of bigotry was probably causing people to gain.

This is just one of the vicious cycles that Dr. Pretlow has often discussed, all of which result in weight increase.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “People who see themselves as overweight more likely to gain weight,” Reuters.com, 09/22/15
Source: “Believing you are overweight may lead to further weight gain,” liv.ac.uk, 08/06/15
Photo credit: rick via Visualhunt/CC BY

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