Obesity is the medical condition in which the body stores enough excess fat to pose a health risk to the individual. The term obesity derives from the Latin obesitas, which comes from ob (over) and edere (to eat). The first documented usage was in 1611 by Randle Cotgrave. Although, the general population recognizes the dangers inherent with excessive body weight, nutrition experts are unable to pinpoint the exact causes of obesity. Sadly, much of the top research on obesity has been either destroyed or disregarded (due to political reasons) following key events, like World War II. These circumstances necessitate the rediscovery of nutrition principles established by our predecessors.
The first culture to document obesity as a medical disorder was ancient Greece. Hippocates, the father of Western medicine, wrote that “corpulence is not only a disease itself, but the harbinger of others.” In the 6th century B.C., the Indian surgeon Sushruta discovered obesity related to diabetes and heart disorders. He recommended physical exercise to help cure the disorder. During the Middle Ages and the renaissance, obesity was seen as a sign of wealth and prosperity, given mankind’s struggle with food scarcity. It became a common disorder among high officials and royalty in Europe and the East Asian civilizations. Strangely enough, today obesity is more prevalent amongst the poorer classes in society.
With the industrial revolution, body size and strength affected the military and economic prowess of developing nations. Large-bodied soldiers and workers were coveted at this time. Throughout the 19th century, an increase in food supply led to an increase in average height and weight across the population. During the 20th century, the average height of the population began to stabilize, but the average weight continued to grow. So far, we have seen this trend of increasing weight continue into the 21st century.
Many cultures throughout history have held negative views regarding obesity. In Greek comedies, the fat character was a glutton, fit for mockery. Throughout the Christian revolution, food was viewed as a gateway to sloth and lust. In modern culture, excess body weight is viewed as unattractive and is commonly associated with negative stereotypes. Public perception of obesity, however, is starting to change. Studies show that the weight people belief separates normal from fat (at a given height) increases each year. Also, the percentage of people who are overweight (based on their BMI) who consider themselves overweight continues to decrease, suggesting the acceptance of larger body types. While these studies suggest a decrease in social stigmatization of adiposity, the health risks are still present. Therefore, keep on exercising and dieting.