Echo and Narcissus

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.

Click here for Lemaitre’s paper and here for the analysis by Moore and Cunningham.

Echo And Narcissus, painting by John William Waterhouse / WikiArt

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August 22, 2016


One Response to “An Epidemic of Narcissism Fueling Obesity?”

  1. August 22, 2016 at 3:14 pm, Stephen Phillips said:

    Connecting the Obesity and the Narcissism Epidemics

    This is nothing less than a brilliant hypothesis by Bruno Lemaitre
    Bariatric Science views obesities as a spectrum condition….. Excess adipose tissue is the very common visable presentation but the causes of obesities are invisable and very different …Obesities have biological mechanisms, psychological processes and social influences.
    Therefore prior to a treatment plan an appropriate diagnosis is necessary
    Dr Lemaitre has identified a contemporary personality type that he labels “vulnerable narcissists” and connects that personality type to the obesity pandemic. Their dreams and special expectations are thwarted by the powerful and dominant emotion of shame They are very sensitive to the opinion of others, being easily hurt or embarrassed, and can be paranoid, thinking the world is unfairly stacked against them.
    Certainly many obese individuals are as he describes, “are sensitive to the social hierarchy of dominance due to their personality and are relegated to a lower social position “

    Psychologists have identified this shame based personality disorder and diagnose it as Avoidant Personality Disorder (DSM-5 301.82) It is characterized by feelings of extreme social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and sensitive to negative criticism and rejection. Being ostracized because of one’s size coupled with the powerful emotion of shame becomes a chronic stressor. The resulting stress is physiologically mediated with the release of cortisol. Cortisol excites carbohydrate hunger and promotes visceral fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals. … And there you have the perfect storm and a biopsychosocial model of a most prevalent form of obesity

    Shame Reduction I s Most Helpful In Weight Reduction

    Thanks Ted for bring this brilliant hypothesis to our attention

    Stephen Phillips
    Academic Committee