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What would you give up to be thin?


May 23, 2006

Forget the sacrifices entailed in the latest extreme diet or exercise craze, according to a new study people would be willing sacrifice life and limb, literally, to avoid being obese.

Nearly half those responding to a Yale University online survey said they would be willing give up a year of their life rather than be fat - 15 percent said they would trim a decade off their lives for a thinner waistline.

A small percentage of the roughly 4,300 people surveyed even said they would rather lose a limb (5 percent), or go blind (4 percent) than put on some extra pounds.




"I guess it just shows how intensely people don't want to be obese," said Marlene Schwartz, lead researcher on the study "(Being obese) is really seen as worse than a lot of other problems that people face in life."

Swartz and her team of researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale found that regardless of the weight of those responding to the survey, most exhibited a distinct anti-fat bias. Some evidence even suggests that that bias is getting worse in the general population, according to the study, which is published in the latest issue of Obesity.

"One of the things that seems different about obesity bias, as opposed to racial bias or ethnic bias, is there isn't what they call 'in-group favoritism,'" Schwartz said. "People in the group don't even feel good about being in the group."

It didn't come as a surprise then to the researcher that the respondents were quicker to associate obese people with more negative personality traits, like being lazy or bad, than they would for thinner people. But to see just how intense this distain for obesity ran, the researchers decided to push the boundaries a bit.

"We had this idea of posing these questions just to see how far people were willing to go. And we were surprised," Swartz said.

Thirty percent of respondents said they would rather be divorced than obese; 25 percent said they would prefer not being able to have children; 15 percent said they would rather be severely depressed. Slightly fewer said they would rather be an alcoholic (14 percent).

But it wasn't simply personal sacrifices that people said they would be willing to make; 10 percent said they would rather have an anorexic child than an obese one. Eight percent said they would prefer their child to have learning disability.

"Part of what I think is going on is we look at an overweight child and we blame the parent 100 percent," Swartz said. "I think that a parent of a child with an eating disorder is seen more sympathetically than a parent of an obese child."

Swartz said she hasn't investigated whether thinner people were more willing to give up smaller things, like having an extra piece of cake or going for a run, but she said anecdotally, that she has found that most overweight people have already made enormous sacrifices in their lives to combat obesity.

"Most overweight people have made a lot of sacrifices," she said. "You'd be hard pressed to find someone who hadn't been on an extreme diet or pushed themselves in pretty extreme ways."


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Ketchikan, Alaska