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The Big Difference Between Overweight and Obesity

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A blog by Maura Kelly concerning her distaste for the heavyweight characters in the new CBS show "Mike and Molly" caused a firestorm of controversy and comments. Ms. Kelly was only exercising her right of freedom of speech and of the press when she wrote her blog for Marie Claire but that one blog may well have made her more well known than any other article she has written. Weight loss, weight gain, almost anything to do with weight will draw comment. I know: My own weight-loss adventures have given rise to a lot of humorous articles for magazines. Among them, being married to the thin man, eating tasteless good foods, ridiculous diets such as the arugula and water diet, etc. -- all tongue-in-cheek and written for amusement.

But as someone who was a diet junkie from the age of 14 until a few years ago, I do have to say that I understand both the negative and positive comments made about Ms. Kelly's blog. A serious article I wrote, "Saying Good-bye to the Fat Girl: Losing Weight Only for Myself", chronicling my own efforts to finally reach a desired weight, appeared in the Huffington Post not too long ago. I reached a goal I set for myself, not a number handed out by a weight-loss business. I lost what I wanted to lose and feel good about me. And I'm not thin, I'm healthy.

But, and here's the big but, no pun intended, I do also understand that there is a serious difference between being 20 pounds overweight and being obese. A major difference that many people who read Kelly's blog seem to have overlooked. To understand the difference we first have to define overweight and obesity by 21st century standards.

The term "overweight" simply means being over a weight that is set for your height and bone structure. I am not talking about those antiquated insurance charts from the 1930s that were unfortunately used to measure and torment us for over 60 years. In 2010 we are looking at a healthy weight range and now know that an extra 10 to 20 pounds is not considered obese by doctors. You can live just fine with the extras. It all depends on your health and agility.

Obesity is different. The medical establishment states that anyone who is more than 100 pounds overweight or who has a BMI greater than 40 kg/m2 is considered morbidly obese. Morbid obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it has an adverse effect on health. Carrying 80 to 100 pounds extra on your body causes problems in movement and ease of getting around on your own. Today we are seeing more and more people in their 20s, 30s and 40s having handicapped stickers on their cars, using canes and motorized chairs, and generally having chronic health problems due to their obesity. The health aids that were once used only by the very elderly and frail are now being used by those who truly shouldn't need them. Unless they are ill or injured, a person in those age groups should not need aids to help them get around. They are paying a high price for their weight and so is the rest of the American public in terms of skyrocketing health care costs.

Obesity is a problem and the ones suffering from it are getting younger and younger. I don't particularly like the idea that, because of a rise in childhood obesity, a child can't bring cupcakes to school for a birthday celebration but I understand the concept of not be allowed to do so. How sad that we have to have a policy limiting our choices of food! That should be something that we do of our own volition and for our own good.

While many readers take passionate issue with Kelly's blog they are not seeing the whole picture. It isn't the cute romantic story of "Mike and Molly" that is objectionable, it is the message that is being sent that obesity is normal and healthy. It isn't. It is equally as bad as the starved waif look of some models and celebrities. There's nothing healthy about either extreme.

A health care professional recently said that the two biggest enemies of the American public are "obesity and cigarettes." How interesting that both enemies are invited into our lives by us alone.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. Also, take a look inside her book, "And Then I'll Be Happy!" You may email her at

Copyright 2010 Kristen Houghton

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