The issue of weight is a constant concern in our culture. The primary message is that, to be beautiful, happy, and loved, a person needs to lose weight. Many people place the blame for this message on advertising images and other media, such as television shows and movies. It is clearly a false and destructive idea.

The fact is, about two-thirds of Americans would benefit from being fitter and healthier, but for reasons that have nothing to do with beauty or love. According to medical guidelines, many people who are considered overweight can reduce certain health risks and feel better all around by getting in shape and improving their diets.

According to several studies and surveys, most Americans, for one reason or another, have weight loss on the brain. And that has meant billions of dollars in business for the weight loss industry.

Generally speaking, Americans weigh more than ever before. According to the Weight-control Information Network of the National Institutes of Health, the number of people who are overweight has increased more than 20% since 1960. The number of people who are obese (extremely overweight) has skyrocketed more than 50%. Why the increase? Researchers point to growing portion sizes in restaurants, as well as people eating more fast food and having less active lifestyles.

This trend hasn't only affected adults. A record number of children and teens are struggling with weight problems as well. About 17% of children and teens (ages 6 to 19) are currently overweight. Genetics, family environment, and eating habits have likely played a role in these numbers. Lack of physical activity, however, is something of special concern among experts.

Above average weight or obesity can be the cause of multiple health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, liver problems, osteoarthritis (pain in the joints), and sleep apnea (periods of stopped breathing during sleep). For these reasons, it is important to stay active and eat right to protect overall health.

For starters, it doesn't help that many stars in movies and television, singers, and other people popularized by the media are thinner than the average American. And these celebrities are often described as having "perfect" bodies. Images of extremely skinny people fill magazine ads, music videos, and popular TV shows. Seeing these images repeated over and over makes them seem normal.

The National Institute on Media and the Family reports several studies that say young people feel bad about themselves and angry about the pressure to have a "perfect" body. After seeing images of thin celebrities so often in their daily lives, they begin to believe that this type of body is what is normal. They believe it is realistic and possible to have—and if they don't have it themselves, they think there's something wrong with them.

The way you feel about your body—called your body image—is often a big part of how you feel about yourself. Many things affect body image, including media images. It is also affected by an idea that many of today's teens, especially girls, seem to have: that they need to be "perfect" all around. This type of thinking can lead a person to be extremely strict with himself or herself, especially in the area of weight control.

Some girls (and boys) may believe that if they could just look like a celebrity, model, or sports star, everything else would fall into place. They may develop eating disorders or abuse products they think will help them lose weight. And that's where serious physical and emotional danger begins.