Obesity and Weight Control: A Disability or a Variation?
Obesity has been described as a condition in which the human body’s natural energy source, fatty tissues, has increased beyond a threshold and is thus attributing to other serious health risks, including higher mortality rates. It has become a serious public health problem, especially here in the United States, for more than half of the U.S. population lies in this category. Excessive weight on the body has, over time, shown to lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type II, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis, just to name a few. Researchers have been studying the causes behind of what seems to be such a preventable condition; however, many whom have dieted unsuccessfully have found that losing the weight is not as simple as it initially seems. It is not as easy as society has made it seem, making obesity a disability of this country, much like color blindness or tone deafness. Researchers studying obesity have looked to the set weight theory as a probable cause for much of America’s obesity problem, and have learned that the set weight theory holds some truths.
The set weight theory states that a human’s body weight is a controlled factor set by the body and the hormones it releases into the body to regulate it. The body deals with weight in a very similar fashion as body temperature, blood pressure, and even pH. When our body drops in temperature, for example, it shivers or creates goose bumps to bring our temperature back up; when our temperature increases, we sweat, as an attempt to cool off. Weight control works in the same exact way. When we have lose weight, our body signals for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, and high-in-fat foods to supplement for the lost weight, and when we gain a lot of weight, our body signals us to stop eating (in theory) so that we burn some of the excess fat off and return to our normal weight. This notion is what makes dieting almost impossible; when we lose weight and cease the actions that we were doing to lose the weight, we quickly return to our previous weight.
To prove that a weight set point exists for individuals, Michel, et al. gave adult rats lipectomies and observed the rats’ feeding habits for four weeks post-lipoectomy. After the four-week recovery, the rats reached their initial body weight (as obtained pre-lipectomy) and regained their initial body fat content. According to experiments done by de Castro, et al. insulin and glucagon levels are just a couple of weight control determinants. In their studies, seven rats were observed for body weight and regulation after manipulation of insulin and glucagon levels. These rats received three injections per day for 3 days: 1) insulin, 2) glucagon, and 3) somatostatin. Observations showed that insulin, specifically, increased the rats’ feeding frequencies. Further observations supported the researchers’ original hypothesis, that the relative concentration of insulin to glucagon was a specific regulator for weight control and our body’s weight set point. These experiments not prove only suggest that a weight set point exists among animals, including homo sapiens, but that we have suggested hormones that possibly determine our weight set point. What does this say about obesity and overweight Americans?
Obesity has been seen in this country as a disability, a grotesque condition of the human body that must be rectified immediately. However, a disability is only that which a given society makes it. Take for example, color blindness. Color blindness has increasingly been seen as a disability by American society, for those who experience such a condition cannot necessarily see the colors that us "normal" people see in the same way. However, should we say that this is truly a disability? Color blindness is merely another way of viewing the same color. Obesity, in the same light, is another way of viewing the human body; so should we count this is a disability as well, or is it simply a variation of the human body, dependent upon genetics and in turn insulin hormone release?
The set point for weight does exist and is regulated by the body, as supported by the above studies. Such evidence gives us further need to learn more about this set point, the regulation of this set point, and how this set point can be changed (temporarily or permanently). Furthermore, understanding weight as another regulation of the body, like temperature, blood pressure, and pH, allows us to see overweight individuals as unique individuals and not as handicaps.
de Castro JM, Paullin SK, DeLugas GM. 1998. Insulin and glucagon as determinants of body weight set point and microregulation in rats. Journal of Computational Physiological Psychology 42, 571-579
Michel C, Cabanac N. 1999. Lipectomy, body weight, and body weight set points in rats. Physiological Behavior 66, 473-479