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Can willpower cure obesity?

Saturday, November 08, 2008 Posted by Travis Saunders
Today I came across a report from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care titled "Healthy weights, healthy lives". Although the report itself is excellent, the introduction from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sheela Basrur surprised me. In it, Dr. Basrur claims that obesity is caused "In part... by our genes or our lack of willpower." I don't think that many would dispute that genes play an important role in the development of obesity. However, to say that obesity is caused by a "lack of willpower" promotes the old-fashioned and unhelpful perspective that individuals with obesity are lazy, or simply lack the will or motivation that are clearly exhibited by their leaner (and theoretically healthier) peers. Further, statements such as these also ignore the effect of physical activity on health independent of obesity. In fact, it has been suggested that it is better for your health if you are "fat and fit" rather than "lean and unfit".

The complexity of the obesity epidemic is described admirably in the "Healthy weights, healthy lives" report. In fact, it is an excellent resource for those who would like to learn more about the role of obesity in our health as a nation. However, unless we can somehow increase the will of millions of overweight Canadians, I don't think that "willpower" will provide a cure for our current obesity epidemic.

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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