In human physiology, eating is one of the most essential processes in our life which supplies the human body with energy and mineral elements. Every epoch nation creates its own values and standards towards eating and eating habits based on cultural and economic perspectives. The beginning of the 21st century is marked by obesity problems and overweight affecting American population. Statistical results and research studies suggest that obesity has become a national problem which affected millions of adults and children around the country (Hu, p. 41). Obesity is an epidemic. It tends to have more negative than positive effects on the economy and can greatly reduce one’s life expectancy. The best resolution to eradicate this spreading disease is by educating people about a healthy diet and regular exercises, starting with the younger generations. Aside from surgery, a healthy lifestyle is the only option that will work! This paper will discuss the background of the disease, some preventative measures that can be taken as well as a proposed solution and proposed policy. The policy that I will propose is to educate the American public on the dangers and medical quandaries that obesity causes and to help eradicate this epidemic from our nation.
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Obesity is defined as: “an excess of body fat, and is distinct from “overweight, ” which means an excess of body weight. However, except in rare situations, such as body builders (who may be overweight but not overfat), the two are highly related and consequently the terms are often used interchangeably” (Wadden and Stunkard, p. 54). When contrasted with smoking and drinking, obesity at first seems like a less serious health problem. Obesity is not only more hazardous than smoking and drinking, but it also leads to a higher cost for health care and medicine. Statistics also show that obesity contributes approximately 740,000 deaths from heart diseases, 540,000 from cancer, 158,000 from stroke, and 59,000 from diabetes are mainly contributable to obesity (Hu, p. 77). In many cases of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, female patients often feel pressure because they cannot accept their appearances and eventually starve themselves to stay in shape. An eating disorder patient is more likely to think that it is imperative to stay slim and fit because overweight women often have “fewer dates, a lack of marriage opportunities, and diminished social success” (Barnhill, p. 47). Obesity is one of the main reasons for increases in suicides in the United States (CDC) (Gard, p. 34).
The most precise method to determine the amount of fat in the abdominal body area is to use techniques such as computed tomography (CT scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Though, a very simple method of estimating abdominal obesity is to calculate the circumference of the waist. A waist circumference of > 95 cm means high abdominal obesity. Recent studies state that weight loss and increased physical activity may each contribute independently to reducing abdominal obesity (Hu, p. 71).
For adults, obesity is a result of unhealthy eating behavior they follow from early childhood changing nothing during their mature years. Important detail is that people possess unhealthy eating patterns from the yearly age which lead them to overweight problem in near future. As a result, mental and physical health problems arise when two conflicting values are being absorbed by a child such as becoming more desirable if one is slim and beautiful, as opposed by a baser instinct to indulge one’s gastronomical appetite. What is most commonly observed then among sufferers is their low self-esteem (Hu, p. 55). They see weight reduction as the only way for them to be accepted and loved. Many of people feel that they are not good enough, they are not capable of doing anything right, and have an illusion that their appearance is always scrutinized by others, have an incorrect perspective that they would be happier and life would be better if they could just lose weight (Kaplan and Dietz, p. 1580). Negative body image contrasts with media images of ideal body and the importance of physical attractiveness and supported by clothes manufacturers who “popularize” baggy life style. The problem is that many children consider that doing exercise is less delightful than other unhealthful alternatives such as watching football game with KFC (Gard, p. 48). In epidemiological studies, it is observed that weight cycling increased the risk of mortality, and particularly cardiovascular deaths (Hu, p. 76). Abdominal obesity is typical for men and also associates with high dietary fat intake, low exercise, and smoking
Causes of Obesity
Obesity is a direct result of unhealthy eating and eating disorders. As western pop culture is shipped abroad to sell western commodities, the problem went as well like unwanted freebies that are stuck and taped around a product. Some Black, Asian, and Hispanic individuals are plagued by unhealthy eating habits because they simply wish to achieve the same physical attributes of celebrities they idolized. Many researchers underline the impact of school nutrition programs on child obesity epidemics (Kaplan and Dietz, 1580). Most of them are heavy eating who pay no attention to quantity of food. Most of them eat three times more than an average person which results in obesity problems. Most of obese people suppose that fitness programs do not help them preferring to blame society in low morals and advertising agencies in misleading information. Most researchers parallel child obesity epidemics with development and growth of fast food industry which became a distinctive feature of the American life style. Fast food life style is dangerous because it results in disbalance of nutrition and causes eating disorders. All fast food contains high cholesterol level which is the primarily cause of obesity. Limited physical activity worsens the problems of obesity (Gard, p. 87).
In the past several decades, obesity has not been as high as the CDC reports (61%) because Americans’ lifestyle habits before were associated with more physical activities. For example, Americans would walk to work or school since these buildings were built close to residential areas. Americans today have sedentary lifestyles and spend hours surfing the internet, playing computer games, or watching TV. In addition, a large number of the American middle class now live in suburban areas, so they usually have to commute to work. Advanced technology allows some people to get their work done on computers without leaving home, adding to the sedentary lifestyle. As a consequence of sedentary living habits and poor diet, a person’s physical condition or endurance is relatively poor, and so he or she often feels lazy (Hu, p. 34).
Recent studies prove that there is a strong genetic component to obesity. The discovery of the genes accountable for obesity in several animal models (specifically the ob gene, which is responsible for leptin, and the gene for the leptin receptor) has radically energized this field and led to a growing of research on the regulation of body weight. Researchers find that there are a number of genes that may be responsible for human obesity. Though, the importance of these genetic issues must be kept in perspective. The recent increases in the frequency of obese people are not due to changes in genes, but arise from changes in the environment (Kulick and Meneley, p. 81).
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Adults and children should be educated with free counseling and advice on obesity and obesity related issues. There also should be more emphasis put on teaching adults to keep a balanced diet and nutrition when cooking for their families. Understanding how to prevent this disease and why it is so dangerous and unhealthy is the key to eradicating the problem (Kulick and Meneley, p. 63). Putting the information out there will not necessarily solve the problem. People do not always do what is best for them even if it involves such a harsh health risk. Many people become set in their ways, and are reluctant to change. Therefore, for this option to work, people need to not only have access to the information, but put it to use as well (Gard, p. 87). Many people have unhealthy eating behavior caused by consuming of fat saturated food with high caloricity level. Limited physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle worsen this problem leading to obesity and obesity related problems. The most important fact is that many parents do not realize health problems until their family doctor becomes conscious of such problems as high body mass index of their children (Kulick and Meneley, p. 73).
Today, many families have a possibility to buy and eat healthier fat free food in contrast to low-income families which are used to buy lower-price fat saturated food. That is why more blue collars suffer form obesity than white collars. In addition, families with high income usually visit more expensive bars and restaurants where they order fat free dishes, but the popular place for low income people is fast food restaurants (Kaplan and Dietz, 1580). The effect of fast food on risk of obesity is tremendous. It was proved that fast-food habits have strong, positive, and independent associations with weight gain and insulin resistance in young people (Kulick and Meneley, p. 87).
Genetic factors have a great impact on child obesity epidemics and health-related problems. So, specific consumer culture and eating habits are the major causes of child obesity epidemics and obesity. Every year, adult obesity costs 100 million dollars to American government. High unemployment rates and high level of low income families increase the risk of obesity. Poor education and absence of equal opportunities with “white” majority is the main factors limited the equal distribution of economic and social resources. Obesity leads to developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. These risks of obesity are strong in individuals under age 40-45. Obesity in adulthood increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
Treatment and Prevention: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary
Primary prevention measures involve changes in life style of a person before signs of obesity related problems. The secondary preventive measures involve treatment of adults with established disease and those at very high risk of obesity. The main measures are weight loss and dietary programs supported by physical training and therapy. Weight maintenance is encouraged, and should be assessed where possible. Physical activities can be seen as a secondary preventive treatment to reduce a chance to get type-2 diabetes. Behavior therapy, pharmacotherapy, self-help groups, weight-management programs are also effective at this stage (Gard, p. 59). With modern treatments, people maintain a weight loss of 5.2 kg at 1 year follow- up (Wing, 1997), or about 61% of their primary weight loss. The most popular techniques are structured diets: VLCDs and Balanced Structured Eating (Wadden and Stunkard, p. 117). These measures are based on treatment programs focused primarily on calorie restriction.
In some cases, pharmacotherapy is used in obesity treatment. The FDA approved dexfenfluramine for use in the treatment of obesity. Dexfenfluramine, which increases serotonin levels by stimulating the release and inhibiting the reuptake of central serotonin, became the most widely used drugs. Some therapists use the combination of fenfluramine (a serotonergic drug) and phentermine (a catecholaminergic drug) for the treatment of obesity. Some studies prove that that dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine might be associated with cardiac disease led to their withdrawal from the market (Wadden and Stunkard, p. 121).
Tertiary measures are aimed to reduce the degree of obesity, the effects of overweight and obesity related problems (Wadden and Stunkard 102). The measures can involve medical treatment and surgery (as a treatment measure), dietary and feasible physical activity. It was mentioned above that the results of clinical researches suggest that there is interdependence between health condition of obese people and physical training at schools. The researches demonstrate that, if children go in for sport regularly, they are less susceptible to coronary heart diseases and II diabetes (Gard, p. 61).
Recent years, Social Health Policies is aimed to introduce preventive measure at schools in order to prevent obesity at its early stage. School-based interventions increase physical activity and decrease sedentary behavior patterns. Prevention campaigns involve broad social context: media, social workers, school authorities, etc. A clear understanding of the goals to be achieved is essential (Wadden and Stunkard, p. 102). Clearly articulated goals against obesity allows to identify the true purpose of intervention programs and promote public understanding and debate around legitimate health purposes, and reveal prejudice, stereotypical attitudes, or irrational fear and exploration of more intrusive measures are permissible where clearly necessary (Gard, p. 61).
The information mentioned above and statistical results demonstrate that unhealthy eating and sedentary life style is culturally constructed and influenced by cultural peculiarities and established traditions. The results and research studies vividly portray that child obesity is a national problem which have a deep historical, social and economic roots. Ideally, health policies should be tailored for children and young adults in order to prevent obesity epidemics. Where media was largely responsible for promoting this culture, one can still trust its power to reverse it to bring a more positive and healthy outlook of beauty avoiding unnecessary blames and aggression. This option would be used only as a last ditch effort and can be very dangerous and expensive. Although this is an alternative, surgery must be the absolute last course of action a person can take to lose weight. There are many risks associated with this type of surgery such as: leaks, bowel obstructions, perforations, and even death. With risks that are this severe, a patient must be absolutely certain they have exhausted all other efforts and are willing to accept these risks. The American public should be taught, starting in elementary school that overeating and a lack of exercise can lead to the disease known as obesity.
- Gard, M. The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality and Ideology Routledge; New edition edition, 2005.
- Hu, F. Obesity Epidemiology. Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition, 2008.
- Kaplan, J.P., Dietz, W.H. (1999) Caloric Imbalance and Public Health Policy. JAMA. 282, 1579-80.
- Kulick, D., Meneley, A. Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession Tarcher (2005).
- Wadden, Th. A. Stunkard, A. J. Handbook of Obesity Treatment. The Guilford Press; Updated edition, 2004.