Study says UGA students frown on obese
Issue date: 12/3/09 Section: News
Two-thirds of Americans over the age of 18 are overweight, according to a report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Eight out of 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South, including Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, where more than 30 percent of the population is overweight.
At 27.9 percent, Georgia falls in 14th place.
With colleges such as Lincoln University in Pennsylvania now requiring students with high body mass indexes to enroll in a fitness program in order to graduate, some schools are taking measures to combat obesity on campus.
"I was not surprised by [their] policy requiring students with higher BMI scores to take a P.E. class," said Diann Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of housing and consumer economics.
However, she said all students would benefit from a healthy lifestyle and physical education course, not just a selected few.
Moorman will be the speaker today at an obesity-related seminar in room 202 of Dawson Hall at 12:30 p.m,
Moorman will discuss the undergraduate research she performed with Danielle Wicks-Smith on how overweight students are treated at the University.
In her study, Moorman found University students have negative biases toward students who they consider to be overweight.
"They do not want to sit by them in class, they do not like looking at them, they do not want to be assigned to groups with them and they are willing to grade their projects and presentations lower than a normal-sized student," Moorman said.
Moorman also found that students think overweight faculty aren't as smart as normal-sized faculty.
She attributes these negative biases toward an "ideology of blame."
"Many people believe that overweight people have no self-discipline and choose to overeat - which may not always be true," Moorman said.
Heredity and genetics also play roles in being overweight, she said.
Moorman said she thinks there is one aspect that is crucial to consider when judging an overweight student.
"Research has shown that there is an inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and obesity," Moorman said.
Obesity is more prevalent in homes with lower socioeconomic statuses, which is probably attributed to the high cost of USDA-certified foods and other healthy options.
"This makes sense … if I have a higher SES, then I can afford to buy salad, fish and boneless chicken," Moorman said.
Foods such as boxed macaroni and cheese are much cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables, but are also higher in fat and calories.
"Two ounces of macaroni and cheese has 260 calories, but who eats just two ounces?" Moorman said.
A box - about $1.50 - is 780 calories, which is about 40 percent of the average daily value.
Moorman said the "huge pockets of very poor households" in the South are directly correlated with the high rates of obesity.
Moorman said she thinks the best way to tackle obesity and an obesity bias is simple: education.
"Children are becoming overweight at younger and younger ages," Moorman said. "Children model what they see."
Moorman also recommends learning how to read food labels and for states to put mandatoryphysical education back into elementary and high schools.
The University Health Center's Health Promotion department provides many services including cooking classes, a health resources library and peer nutrition educators, which all help to educate students about living healthier lifestyles.
And, when fighting the bias, Moorman said most peoples' biases decrease once they get to know the overweight individual.
"They see that overweight people are not unintelligent, lazy or lack willpower as they have been labeled," Moorman said.
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