Overweight and obese individuals are often the focus of jokes and ridicule. The stigmatization associated with being overweight can cripple an individual socially and in the work place. Individuals suffering from being overweight have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and social isolation ("Obesity, Bias, and Stigmatization") often as a result of the negative biased stigmatization. Quite often overweight people are stereotyped as being individuals who simply eat too much but research shows there is nothing "simple" about it.
One of the many origins of human obesity is deeply rooted in our ancestors. It is believed that one of the predominate causes for bipedal ape development was due to receding forest in East Africa causing devastating food shortages in the Pliocene era (Haviland, 2007). The need to adapt to acquire new sources of food had a hand in selecting bipedalism to gather food sources, allowing the hands to be free to carry food back home. This set in motion, around 5 million years ago, the lineage that would one day become human (Haviland, 2007). Food scarcity was always a problem in primate development, in fact is was a problem facing almost every organism on the planet.
In light of evolution it''s no wonder 60 % (Myers, 2008) of the world''s population is overweight. For millions of years evolution has selected traits and systems that work together allowing humans to compete for resources. It''s only been recently, in the perspective of our world''s history, that food for primates has become so abundant and easily attained leading to a dysfunction of evolutions rule "When you find energy rich fat or sugar, eat it!" (Myers, 2008).
Not only is our body predisposition to desire food, our body is conditioned to reserve that energy from food as fat in fat cells. Our ancestors had to survive times of famine and by storing some of the food as fat they were able to get through the tough times (Myers, 2008) by converting that fat back to energy when there wasn''t any food. The typical human has between 30, and 40 billion fat cells (Myers, 2008). When these fat cells become full they often divide and cause other immature fat cells near them to divide. The problem with this is that number of fat cells never decreases. A person can lose the fat in those fat cells, but not the fat cells themselves (Myers, 2008). It makes since then, that because the infrastructure of fat cells is already built, it would be much easier for one, having lost the weight, to gain it back
In conclusion, being overweight is no simple matter. The current trend in our society to gain weight is a trend backed by millions of years of evolutionary development and our genetics have not caught up with our social evolution. I believe the key to dealing with the obesity epidemic, and the stigmatization of it, is to look at the situation for what it is; an evolutionary wonder. By understanding the principles and systems involved, and abolishing the stigmatizations with knowledge, perhaps we can tackle the issue in a way conducive to healing.
Haviland, A.W. (2007). Anthropology: The Human Challenge (12th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing
Myers, D.G. (2008). Exploring Psychology (7th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.
Obesity, Bias, and Stigmatization. (n.d.). The Obesity Society. Retrieved October 28, 2009, from