An Epidemic of Narcissism Fueling Obesity?
Who knew that we have a global epidemic of narcissism, much less that it might be fueling growth in the prevalence of obesity? Bruno Lemaitre floats this intriguing hypothesis in the upcoming October issue of Medical Hypotheses. He describes documentation for the growth in “status-striving individualism” and a diminished sense of community in Western populations that is spreading worldwide.
He goes on to speculate that:
This rise of narcissism underlies a steep social hierarchy resulting in increase of social stress. This social stress markedly affects individuals who are sensitive to social hierarchy dominance due to their personality, yet are relegated at a lower social position.
Before you shrug off this idea, consider its merits.
A substantial literature of research has documented close connections between social stress, socioeconomic disparities, and obesity. Stress-induced eating is one key factor among many in the development of obesity. In a recent analysis, Carla Moore and Solveig Cunningham found:
Across studies, individuals in higher status positions tended to have lower stress levels, healthier eating patterns, and lower body weight. Higher stress was associated with less healthy dietary behaviors and with higher body weight. These patterns were more pronounced in women than in men.
Perhaps the American election has made us vulnerable to anxiety about the rise of narcissism. But let’s set that aside.
Two assumptions dominate the thinking about what it will take to reverse obesity trends. One is that government and industry must remove sugar, or other bad stuff, from the food supply. The other is the imperative to nudge and exhort the public to move more.
For three decades, these assumptions dominated public health policy on obesity. And for three decades, despite efforts to change patterns of diet and physical activity, obesity prevalence has grown relentlessly. We need fresh thinking and rigorous science.
New ideas about other factors fueling obesity deserve serious consideration.
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August 22, 2016