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Obesity and its Effects on Society Introduction
‘ America is fat’, this is a statement echoed by many people in and out of the health industry and if you don’ t believe them, maybe the following statistic will change your mind. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, obesity rates grew 74% between 1991 and 2001 (Ward-Smith 242). Do you believe now? When most people read that statistic, they have a single burning question in mind and that question is ‘ why?’ Why is the rate of obesity growing so rapidly? Is it our diet? Is it our way of life? Or are Americans simply lazy? There are many answers to these questions and in this research paper I will explore several of them. But first, why is obesity such a big deal? Why is it important?
Understanding obesity is important because the CDC also found that the range of obesity in American states fluctuates from as little as 18% to 32% (Ward-Smith 244). What this means is that almost one in every five people are obese in the slimmest state in America and that one in every three are obese in Americas fattest states.
It also means that obesity is a national disease and it threatens the lives of every American. This growing rate of obesity doesn’t bode well for the future of American health because if Americans are gaining so much weight, within such a short period of time, one can only wonder what effects it will have on American society. It’s common knowledge that there are dangers to obesity, it is currently the number two cause for preventable death and in a few years, it will overtake smoking as the number one cause for preventable death (Bean, Steward, and Olbrisch, 214). But the question still remains, how will all these statistics affect us as a society? The answer is simple. If America doesn’t get a handle on the rampant weight gain, then obesity will have an adverse effect on society. Obesity is a major health concern because it is a leading cause for diabetes and heart failure and it is a leading cause for preventable death.
Obesity also affects America as a society, because it demonstrates how un-restrained Americans can be when it comes to consumption. Americans also lead extremely sedentary lives and seemingly go out of their way to be inactive.
Finally, obesity is an economic factor, because it affects healthcare and it has negative impacts on the economy. America promotes obesity and at the end of the day, America has only itself to blame for this pandemic.
Dangers of Obesity
Obesity is a disease that attacks American society across multiple fronts, the foremost and most important being health. The CDC defines an obese person as a person who has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above and such people face multiple health-related challenges, the most severe being diabetes, heart failure and premature death (Ward-Smith 244). These two diseases are extremely common among obese people and they are the consequence of a combination of poor diet and a lack of exercise.
Diabetes is when your body can no longer handle the sugar within your blood. This will then cause the sugar in your blood to damage organs and other parts of your body. There are two types of diabetes, diabetes type-1 and type-2. Type-1 diabetes is mostly unpreventable and you are usually born with it. Type-2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a different monster; type-2 diabetes is acquired during adulthood, meaning you aren’t born with it and it is brought about mainly due to lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet (Mettenburg 11). For example, eating tons of sugary foods and drinking sodas and sugary juices on a constant basis places you at serious risk for diabetes. Eating a lot of processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon also increase your chances for diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease because it can lead to other, more serious, complications such as: kidney disease, amputations and blindness (Mettenburg 11). If we know that diabetes is caused by unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise, it is obvious that the best way to treat it is with exercise and a balanced diet. However, it appears that knowing isn’t half the battle, since the rate of diabetes continues to surge nationwide. Diabetes is only one of the many diseases caused by obesity. Heart disease is another major disease and area of concern for obese people.
Heart disease is a lot like ice-cream; it comes in many different flavors. It comes in the form of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, or rheumatic heart disease. Heart disease is also a leading cause for death among the adult population and obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Now, to be fair, it is possible to have heart disease without being obese, however, obesity (along with diabetes) have been discovered to be MAJOR contributors to heart disease (Miller, Lavie, and White 162). When dealing with heart disease, culprits are separated into two groups, major risk factors and contributing risk factors. Major risk factors are factors which are determined to actually increase your chance of heart disease, while contributing risk factors are those that the doctors believe may lead to an increased chance of heart disease. Based on this system of classification, it has been medically proven that obesity does in fact increase a person ‘s chance for heart disease.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in blood cells and that is produced by the liver in order to create cell membranes and high cholesterol is listed as a major contributor to heart disease. It is caused by an unbalanced diet consisting of food that comes directly from animals. Eating too much food that comes directly from animals, such as eggs, milk, cheese, butter and red meat will drastically increase your cholesterol level and that could then increase your chance to have a heart attack (Morgan). Once again, it’ s important to notice the correlation between eating unhealthy and picking up diseases which could potentially end your Life.
The third danger that obesity poses to American society is premature death. Currently, smoking is the number one cause for preventable or premature death. Obesity isn’t to be outdone, however, as it is closing in on the top spot with unprecedented haste. Studies conducted by the journal of internal medicine also indicate that the higher a person’s BMI, the higher the chance that they will die (Orsini, Bellocco, Bottai, Pagano, Michaelsson, and Wolk 446). It’ s amazing that obesity is rising in the USA at such drastic rates when the ultimate result is untimely death. Why is this happening? Why are people purposely eating themselves into their graves ahead of schedule?
America‘s Promotion of Obesity
To find out why this is happening, we need to look no further than into America’s own food industry, which promotes over consumption, dishing out serving after serving of some of the unhealthiest foods imaginable for a marginal price and rewarding customers for buying in bulk. Then we’ll look into America’s acceptance of obesity, including the promotion of plus size models. Last but not least, we’ll also look into the American sedentary life-style and how that also promotes obesity.
Over consumption is when a person or a society uses resources in a manner that is extremely wasteful. America is a staunch proponent for over consumption and most Americans do not even realize it. When it comes to food consumption America has no equal. With that knowledge, there should be no surprise that there are so many fast food restaurants in America, especially in urban areas. For example, when I leave school, I am constantly surprised by the sheer number of fast food restaurants that are stacked up one after the other during my trek to 95th. I understand that companies must compete for customers, it makes sense to set up restaurants next to each other. I also understand that it makes perfect sense to give people a choice in what they want to eat, but at what cost? People are actively eating themselves to death and fast food restaurants encourage that habit by opening up 3-5 fast food restaurants on each block and keeping longer hours. In fact, McDonald’s drive-thru is now open 24 hours a day, now isn’t that convenient?
The ease with which we can get unhealthy food in America would bring a glutton to tears of joy. According to Trenton Smith, “Americans obtain 16% of calories from added sugar, and 60% of adults obtain more than 10% of calories from saturated fats” (Smith 387). That obviously doesn’t make for a healthy diet and is in fact, extremely unhealthy. Why is America such a junk food nation? The blame lies within the food industry; they purposely promote over consumption. If it does not sound believable that the food industry purposely promotes over consumption, then all one needs to do is turn on the television. One would see ads for fast food on every channel, ads that promote unhealthy products non- stop. Trenton Smith says again ” Consumer advocates have long argued that too much advertising, especially television advertising, manipulates consumers into buying products that are detrimental to health or well-being” (Smith 403). Ever since cigarettes were determined to be harmful to the health of people, they stopped advertising cigarettes on T.V. (Gray 1264). Why can’t fast food ads get the same treatment? They are also proven to be harmful to the health.
However, what is more troubling is that the target audience for these ads are children, the fast food industry entices them by demonstrating how eating a double cheeseburger can lift a person’s mood or how biting into a big mac can bring a smile to a persons’ face. Fast food ads also develop characters that can relate to children, such as Ronald McDonald the clown and the toys that are stuffed in every happy meal. All these advertising strategies work to entice viewers into believing that the food they consume will benefit them in some way (smith 403). In addition to these advertising tactics, the fast food industry also advertises on channels that are viewed mostly by children. If you turn on cartoon network and watch a 30-minute show, you are certain to find advertising for any major fast food retailer. This is a dangerous tactic, because it brings children into the pattern of eating unhealthy foods from a young age and leads to increased cases of childhood obesity. Is it, then, any surprise that many of these children grow up to be obese? And who suffers the most from these tactics?
Obviously, obese people suffer the most, because the foods they should be avoiding are so conveniently located right down the block from them. The sad thing is, it’s always the unhealthy foods that are advertised. When was the last time you saw vegetables advertised? There has been no time in history when a restaurant decided to invest millions into advertising vegetables or healthy products. According to Smith, 50% of Americans consume no fruits or fruit juices, and only 16% of Americans eat vegetables (Smith 387). If America didn’t promote obesity they would most certainly put severe limitations on the amount of advertising that the fast food industry promotes.
It’ s unfair, however, to pick solely on fast food corporations, after all, if you eat too much of any sort of food, you’ll definitely gain weight. Retailers are also to blame for the rapid surge of obesity across the nation. Retailers now reward buyers for buying items in bulk by giving them steep discounts. For example, children who love candy are now encouraged to buy additional candy bars, because you can buy two bars of snickers for $1.00 instead of paying 69- 89 cents for one bar. Bulk retailers such as Sam’ s club have seen a massive increase of over 15% in sales since 2009 (Heylar 158). When customers are rewarded for buying more, isn’t it only logical they also eat more? The 74% rise in obesity shouldn’t astound anyone, because what else would one expect when American businesses operate under a system that is more concerned with profits than the welfare of their customers?
The second way American society promotes obesity is through accommodation. There are certain things that a society shouldn’t overlook, and a disease that affects one in every five people in the slimmest states is certainly one of those things. The accommodation of obesity is an important factor in keeping obesity as a major danger in America. When American society makes obesity acceptable and ignores the health concerns of obesity to be politically correct, then I believe the society is accepting of it. An example of this promotion can be found in plus size models. For a long time, women rallied against the modeling industry, saying that it encouraged women to develop eating disorders (Ahem, Bennett, Hetherington 295). Now that obesity has become such a widespread disease, we see and hear people everywhere making excuses for obesity, instead of finding solutions for it. Plus size models have become revered in the eyes of women; they are seen as women with ‘figures’ who aren’t afraid to show off their curves. How exactly is having an obese woman in the modeling industry any different than having anorexic women in the same business? At the end of the day, neither anorexic nor obese models promote a healthy lifestyle. It isn’t fair to glorify one above the other for the sake of public image or acceptance. Obesity isn’t something that we should make excuses for, nor is it a phenomenon that should be covered up under the guise of courage, Obesity is a curable disease. If Obesity was any other disease no one would be saying the proper thing to do is accept your disease, our goal is to cure diseases.
Last but not least, America promotes obesity by being inactive. Adults do not get enough exercise and children sit at home on a daily basis, glued in front of the tv playing video games and computers, while parks remain desolate. According to Nation’s Health, the Surgeon General released a report and it stated “more than 60 percent of adults do not achieve the recommended amount of physical activity, and 25 percent of adults are not physically active at all” (Nation’s Health 5). The standard of life in America is so tailored towards comfort that everything is within reach. If you are craving for a pizza, you don’ t need to go anywhere, simply pick up your phone and have it delivered. Once children get used to doing little to no exercise, they will grow up that way and continue living their sedentary lifestyles, they’ll continue driving short distances, instead of walking, they’ll always take the elevator instead of taking the staircase. Sedentary lifestyles go hand in hand with obesity to increase mortality rates among the general population.
Implications of Obesity on Society
We’ve seen how obesity affects the society physically; we’ve seen how obesity is also promoted by the American society. Now we will see how obesity affects our healthcare, who it affects and society’s view on it.
Obesity is a disease that acts as a gateway to other more life-threatening diseases, as such; it has adverse effects on American healthcare and the American tax-payers pays for it. A new study found that obesity costs the American healthcare system a whopping $147 billion annually (Finkelstein, Strombotne, and Popkin 2). That’s a massive price-tag for a disease that is preventable. It’s more disconcerting because 10 years ago, that number was at $78.4 billion. It means that the cost of treating the same disease has doubled within 10 years. Medicare has also upped the cost of coverage for obese people to more than an additional $2,000 a year (Finkelstein, Strombotne, and Popkin 3). What do these statistics mean? It simply means that more money is being redirected into treating obesity and if obesity continues to scale the way it is currently, it will increase demand for treatment for the diseases which it promotes.
Obesity is also a major concern for employers because workers who are obese and call in sick account for lost days and lost revenues and they also increase the price of health insurance for the company. What is being done to curb it? In 2002, the American Obesity Association (AOA) successfully convinced the IRS to recognize weight-loss treatment as something that could be tax deductible. What this means is that patients who underwent treatment programs were able to write off their treatment costs as tax deductible, but more importantly, it marked a change in the stance of the government towards obesity. For the first time, obesity was recognized as a disease that was worth treating. Despite that, however, the rate of obesity continued to soar because the government refused to put in place a system that would reduce the increase of obesity. It wasn’t until 2010 when president Obama signed the new healthcare reform bill, when a nationwide effort was finally made to curb obesity. The reform bill includes funding for task forces and prevention forces for local government (Healthcare Reform Bill Sec. 4108). The ideology behind the bill is that millions can be saved through prevention of obesity. The bill also contains provisions that will enable opportunities for prevention programs at all levels of the economic ladder, with greater focus placed on the poor and the elderly. This is a good provision, because research shows that those affected by obesity are those in the lower class and the elderly.
Obesity doesn’t discriminate; everyone has a chance to be obese. However, research proves that people in poorer neighborhoods have a greater exposure to obesity. Why? There are several reasons for this. First off, people in lower-income neighborhoods just aren’t as educated about nutrition as their high earning counterparts. They are mostly uneducated about how fried foods and sugary drinks don’t exactly constitute a healthy meal (Sturm and Wells 231).
The second factor that keeps the obesity rate high amongst those of lower-income is lack of funding for proper parks or exercise centers. People in lower income neighborhoods don’ t have anywhere to go in order to exercise in a safe and controlled environment. This is mostly caused due to a lack of funding in those neighborhoods.
The last factor that’s to blame for the obesity rates in lower income neighborhoods is the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the high prices attached to the few fruits or vegetables available. To someone living on the edge of poverty, feeding themselves is purely a matter of getting food into their stomachs. Truth is, it is much cheaper to get a can of coke and a hamburger than it is to go to the store and buy a healthier alternative to a quick lunch. This is the reason why fast food retailers are always making sure they build branches near low income neighborhoods. When there isn’t enough money to eat healthy, the next best choice is to eat processed foods which come a lot cheaper and are easier to ration and last longer than fresh fruits. Another down-side with vegetables in low-income neighborhoods is that they tend to spoil after a short period of time. It is a lot more cost effective to buy in bulk and to buy food that will last.
Society’s view on obesity has changed drastically over the years. Initially, fatness was viewed as a sign of wealth; it was common for wealthy people to be plump. In today’s society, however, the stigma is no longer there. In contrast, the majority of obese people are now seen mostly in lower-income neighborhoods and it has become associated with a substandard and unhealthy life-style. To many people, obesity also shows lack of self-restraint in a person’s character. They believe that because the obese person cannot control themselves, they continue eating (Jimenez et al.84). In more recent years obesity has become a disease and is treated as one. The government in particular has taken interest in obesity and has taken measures to counteract the effects it has on American society.
The American society recognizes obesity as a problem. However, instead of taking real, meaningful steps towards finding a way to put an end to obesity, the American society seems to accommodate it. In the future, when people talk about America’s ‘fat off the land’, they most certainly won’t refer to the economic status, or the opportunities found in America, they’ll refer to us, the people of America, because we’ll all be fat. It’s true that America certainly complains about obesity, the American society knows that it is a problem, but what serious steps are being taken to stop it? Well, states are organizing awareness programs in an attempt to make children eat healthier, but it isn’t enough. The rate of obesity is still rising and Americans are unhealthier now than they ever were.
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- Bean, Melanie K., Karen Stewart, and Mary Ellen Olbrisch. “Obesity in America: Implications for Clinical and Health Psychologists.” Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings 15.3 (2008): 214-224.
- Duchovny, Noelia. How does obesity in adults affect spending on healthcare? Washington D.C.; Congressional Budget Office, 2010. Print.
- Finkelstein, Eric A., Kiersten L. Strombotne, and Barry M. Popkin. “The Costs of Obesity and Implications for Policymakers.” Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm & Resource Issues 25.3 (2010): 3-9.
- Gray, Nigel. “Tobacco industry and EC advertising ban.” Lancet 359.93 14 (2002): 1264.
- Helyar, John, Ann Hattington, and Sol Price. “The Only Company Wal-Mart Fears.” Fortune148.11 (2003): 158-166
- Jimenez -Cruz, Arturo, et al. “Strong beliefs on personal responsibilities and negative attitudes towards the child with obesity among teachers and parents.” Revista Biomedica 19.2 (2008): 84-91. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
- Loonin, Meryl. Overweight America. Detroit; Lucent Books, 2007. Print.
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