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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Civic Responsibility towards Obese Individuals

The Etymology of the word Obesity is Obesitas which is Latin for stout, fat or plump. (Hoad 1) It can also be dissected using two Latin words as Esus and Ob.  The word Esus is the past participle of edere which means to eat and Ob which means over. Taken literally it means over eating.  Thus, it has been understood to refer to a person is stout, fat or plump.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first documented usage of the term obesity was in 1611 by Randle Cotgrave.  On the other hand, the term obese is the adjective of obesity.  According to Kereven, the term obese was first accepted in 1651. 

Nowadays, Obesity is scientifically defined as the abnormal accumulation of body fat, usually 20% or more of an individual’s ideal body weight.  It is determined by getting a person’s body mass index (BMI).  The BMI is a formula that computes the individual’s height and weight to determine the body fat and the associated health risk.  BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters.

The denotation of Obesity will depend on a person’s BMI level.  From the scientific point of view, if a person’s BMI is 30 to 39 then he is considered obese.  If a person’s weight is between 26 and 29 then he can only be considered as overweight but not obese.  Fat and overweight persons are not classified as obese persons.  Thus, whether a person is obese or not will depend on the result of his BMI.  There is a different BMI for adults and for children.  Generally, however, a person with BMI of below 20 is considered underweight while those with BMI between 20 and 25 are considered of normal weight.  On the other hand, those with BMI between 26 and 29 are considered overweight while those with BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese.  Those whose BMI exceeds 40 are considered morbidity obese.

The usual connotation of the word obesity is that any person who is fat falls under the category of obese.  It is not unusual for a person who is a little on the heavy side to be labeled as obese.  Others consider obesity as synonymous with corpulent, fleshy, portly, stout, pudgy, rotund, plump, gross, overweight and chubby. (George Kerevan 1)

In our society, any person who is a little overweight is considered an obese.  Most discouraging is the fact that obesity is not simply a health issue.  The problem with obesity is that it is the only medical condition that suffers from negative connotations, perceptions, attitudes and prejudices.  The reality is that obese people are generally disliked by the society.  In school nobody wants to make friends with the obese people.  Nobody wants to sit beside an obese person when inside the bus.  At work nobody wants to hire obese people.  On the streets, everybody makes fun of obese people.  In hospitals, obese people do not get adequate respect, attention and treatment that they deserve.  The general attitude by the public towards obese people is that people either make fun of them or angry at them.  In school, obese children are often nominated significantly less often as best friend and rater lower in peer acceptance.  Teachers also view obese children as more socially withdrawn and displaying less leadership in school.  Peers also describe obese children as less physically attractive, less athletic, more sickly, tired and absent from school. (Zeller et al, 10)  In some studies, the public’s negative attitude towards obese people ranks alongside alcoholics and drug addicts.  

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Perhaps, it is this reason why obese people are treated differently by the society.  Even within the school environment where students should be taught the values of love and friendship, attitudes against obese people are already being shaped.  Obesity is not simply about being fat or ugly.  It is not simply about aesthetics.  According to World Health Organization, obesity is associated with certain health hazards.  Obese persons have more health risks than a person of average weight.  Obesity, therefore, is a serious problem especially so that obese persons are more exposed to chronic diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, high blood pressure, gout, breathing problems, and even cancer. (“Obesity”, World Health Organization, 1) 

Studies also say that obese persons are twice as likely to die prematurely as is an average-weight person.  Problems of obesity have also become more complex in view of the increasing number of individuals who have weight problems.  According to World Health Organization, obesity was once a problem only in high income countries.  Recently, however, even low-income and middle-income countries have reported a dramatic increase in the number of persons who are obese and overweight. (“Obesity”, World Health Organization, 1)

Despite their condition, obese persons have to deal with the fact that the society is unfriendly towards them. Obese persons do not expect that they get special treatment in schools.  They do not expect that they be pampered by their employers.  They also do not expect to get royal treatment from anybody.  All they want is to be treated just like anybody else. 

The question is does society have responsibility towards obese people? Does society need to be nice to obese people? Does the society have an obligation to obese people simply because they are obese? Is there a need to adjust the physical facilities so that it can accommodate obese people? Are hospitals and medical institutions legally and morally required to make adjustments on their physical facilities so that they can cater to the needs of the obese people? What happens to hospitals and medical institutions who fail to provide obese people with adequate physical facilities? Is there a liability for their failure to do so?

On one hand, it can be argued that society has no obligation towards obese people.  People do not have to be nice to obese people.  Employers need not hire obese people.  It can also be argued that hospitals and other medical institutions need not adjust their facilities just to accommodate obese persons. If there is any person who should take responsibility that is the obese persons who should take responsibility for their weight. (Alastair Dalton 2) On the other hand, it can likewise be argued that employers who fail to hire obese persons may find themselves in a heap of lawsuits for violating laws against discrimination.  It can likewise be argued that hospitals and other institutions may find themselves burdened with injuries to its medical staff for failure to have the necessary facilities that will cater to the needs of obese people.

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