Too fat or too fit: The end of the middle (weight) class

The new study on obesity may help highlight the problem at the other end of the scale

This week has seen a massive rise in talk about obesity in Ireland, as the point of discussion became the focus for several governmental proposals, as well as long-term scientific studies.

Yesterday, the Children's Minister Katherine Zappone says she would like to see a sugar tax implemented, off the back of a ten-year obesity action plan set in place by Minister Simon Harris.

And today, a DCU research study showed that Irish teenagers have the same risk of heart disease as someone 40 years older, with 85% of those in the study suffering from high blood pressure, and 90% possessing high levels of fat in their blood.

But on the other end of spectrum, there is an equally troublesome problem.

Year on year, the number of people attending gyms continues to climb, as more and more people become aware of the necessary health benefits from regular work outs.

Counting the costs

The figures at the end of 2015 show that Irish people spend over €2.4 billion on sports and fitness related activities every year.

A combined 850,000 male and female gym members spend appropriately €435 million on membership per year.

A gym-instructor at Flyefit - one of Ireland's first 24-hour gyms - told Ireland Live: "Numbers wise, classes have definitely gone up. Memberships are soaring every single year.”

And off the back on the upshoot in the number of gyms, extreme fitness classes, personal trainers and nutritionists, an addiction to health has formed.

Chris Hall, a nutritionist and personal trainer and founder of a personal training course in Oxford, has talked previously about this new addiction: "Exercise addiction isn’t currently recognised as an illness but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a real problem – it can have severe physical and mental effects.”

Signs of exercise addiction includes judging if you're having a good or bad day based on whether you visited the gym, and feeling frustrated when social commitments get in the way of your workout, but a major knock-on effect is yet another addiction: getting attention.

Post-workout workout

Complaints about people posting pics of their food are almost as old as the apps the pics themselves get posted on, as are the jokes about "If you worked out and didn't take a selfie, did you even work out?", but much like exercise addiction, online attention addiction suffers from the same lack of recognition, and is just as potentially dangerous.

Stanford University lecturer Nir Eyal has talked about the addiction of Instagram, including discussing how it's creator Kevin Systrom came up with the idea while he was majoring in symbolic systems at Stanford, a mixture of psychology and computer science.

It has obviously proven to be very effective, especially when considering that a recent study showed that over a third of people surveyed admit to doing activities simply to be able to talk about them or show them off online afterwards.

Research by the University of Buffalo showed that those who base their self-worth on their appearance are likely to post more pictures of themselves on social media seeking validation. In turn, they are also more likely to have a larger number of followers.

This can then result in an online-driven form of body-dysmorphia, where viewers are shamed into "not looking like them" - the 'them' being the hundreds or thousands of edited-to-perfection Instagram feeds they follow - which then feeds into both the 'Too Fit' or 'Too Fat' groups, furthering deepening their self-esteem issues.

It becomes a loop of addiction, for both the participants and the viewers, and while not all gym-goers are selfie-mad, and not all gym-avoiders have body weight issues, the problem is progressing at a troubling speed on both ends of the scale.

So while the obesity action plan is attempting to do a good job at tackling a problem everyone can see, perhaps some more attention should be paid to a far more insidious issue, one that is hiding in plain sight, right there on our mobile phones.