Emotional intelligence & the obesity epidemic

Q: I am a Doctoral student working on a dissertation currently titled “A Mixed-Methods Study of the Correlation and Educator Perceptions among a Middle School Student’s Body Mass Index and Academics, Attendance, and Behavior.” While interviewing educators, they expressed their concern about obesity prevention and intervention not only occurring in the schools, but society. Another concern was that most people do not recognize themselves or someone else as being overweight or obese, when in fact they are. I instantly thought about ecological intelligence and wondered how you think society should respond to this epidemic. Any thoughts that you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

A:  Emotional intelligence abilities can help tackle obesity in certain ways.  For the overweight individual, the self-mastery abilities – self-awareness and self-regulation – work hand in hand.  Here mindfulness, an application of self-awareness, can help a person tune in to their thoughts and feelings while eating, and use the body’s signals for satiety to know when to stop – an act of self-regulation.

At the social level, the ecological intelligence framework of radical transparency about the things we buy could help, too. One of the main negative impacts of the foods we eat – at least processed foods – are the adverse health consequences, with obesity and the related epidemics of heart disease and diabetes the number one specimen.  So just as I proposed making the precise ecological impacts of a product as fully transparent as its prices, I’d encourage doing that with its health impacts, too. When Hannaford Brothers, a supermarket chain in the northeast, had nutritionists rate the value of the foods they sold on a three-star to no-star scale (three is best), market share shifted toward the three star foods and away from no-star. Not a single processed food got any stars – mainly because of too much salt and fat.  If all foods – including fast foods — were marked in this simple way (even the nutrition labels we have now are too complex), enough shoppers will switch to better choices. That means the people who manage those brands will have to change what’s in them in order to keep our business. And giving people better choices will also help them keep their weight down.