The term “obesity epidemic” has been heard for at least 20 years. In a 2005 International Journal of Epidemiology article, Katherine M. Flegal examined this usage, noting that the dictionary definition of an epidemic implies both the high prevalence of a disease and its rapid increase.
Obesity does not quite fit the classic model of a contagious disease epidemic. But it has frequently been argued that we are inundated by intangible agents of contagion like the omnipresence of advertising for harmful, obesity-causing substances (like sugar-sweetened beverages), and the ubiquitous availability of worthless junk food. These factors infect the human consciousness in much the same way that living organisms invade the body.
Flegal references an authority named C. E. Rosenberg who wrote about epidemics as social and political phenomena with certain characteristics:
First, there is a reluctance to accept and acknowledge the epidemic, until admission of its presence is unavoidable… [A]n explanatory framework is created in which to understand it, which often expresses and legitimizes moral and social assumptions, reaffirming social values, and blaming victims.
In the third stage, a public response is created. In fact one of the defining characteristics of an epidemic is the pressure it generates for decisive and visible community response.
An important difference is that epidemics caused by tangible agents of contagion like bacteria and viruses tend to eventually end, while there is no indication that the obesity epidemic will ever come to a conclusion.
Now, for almost two years, Obie (a nickname for the obesity epidemic) has been hanging out with its new best friend, Covie (the coronavirus epidemic) as they deploy every trick in the book to supply one another with victims and generally exacerbate the already miserable situation. By the time the two delinquents met, the concept of a childhood obesity epidemic specifically had also been in general use for some time. A 2008 example from Dr. Pretlow can be found in the journal Pediatrics.
After COVID hit, it did not take long for the unholy alliance between Obie and Covie to become apparent. When Tiffany Haddish interviewed coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci last August, he said, “Obesity is absolutely a risk.” By then, it had become stunningly obvious that obesity and COVID-19 are in active and continuous collaboration. Dr. Fauci, incidentally, confirmed the thoughts of C. E. Rosenberg quoted above when he said:
The thing that we’re facing that is unfortunate is the divisiveness in our society is making it almost a political thing. Trying to do public health things is the enemy of opening the country, that’s nonsense. We should use the public health measures as a vehicle and as a pathway to safely reopening the country.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Commentary: The epidemic of obesity—what’s in a name?,” Academic.oup.com, 12/08/05
Source: “Overweight and Obesity in Childhood,” AAPPublications.org, August 2008
Source: “Tiffany Haddish interviews Dr. Fauci about COVID-19,” YouTube.com, 08/31/20
Images by Chiara Coetzee, annabella photo, Barry Thomas, and carterse/CC BY-SA 2.0