NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obesity - Is Psychiatry The Answer?

August 29, 2000

Obesity is becoming a more worrisome problem as societal changes increase the number of obese Americans. Food is the most heavily advertised product on television. Portion size has increased. People consume more high-fat fast food and less fresh fruits and vegetables. Physical activity levels have fallen. Accordingly it is not surprising that:

  • Some 14 percent of children 6 to 11 are overweight.
  • Eleven percent of adolescents 12 to 17 are overweight.
  • Over half -- 54 percent -- of adults 18 and older are overweight.

Obese people are more apt to develop a wide range of serious health problems, but one physician believes that obesity is a symptom rather than a diagnosis. Scott Goldsmith states that one in four persons seeking treatment from a primary care physician for weight problems has an active psychiatric illness. The overeating is like a fever that has different reasons in each patient. The visits to a primary care physician, he notes, are usually prompted by a marital or job crisis or other emotionally charged situation.

While genetic, environmental and emotional factors may contribute to obesity, experts say psychiatric counseling and other behavioral strategies may be a beneficial treatment for obese patients.

Source: Lynne Lamberg, "Psychiatric Help May Help Shrink Some Waistlines," Journal of the American Medical Association, July 19, 2000.


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