The fact that America is struggling with an obesity epidemic has become widely acknowledged by now. Concerns over a fast growing number of children inflicted with obesity as well as an adult population struggling with weight issues have led to widespread debates amongst academia, private sectors, the government, and the community at large. While obesity has been traditionally linked to genetic traits, there is an increasing segment of people who believe that obesity results more from a consumer’s personal choice rather than being handed down through familial genes. In the US, obesity has become a lifestyle issue. People have become too used to consuming high calorie junk foods while they barely get any physical exercise to burn off the fat. What makes the situation the worst is that fast food company specifically target children that promotes unhealthy eating at an early age. While the government has started taking measures to battle the obesity problem, the responsibility to eat right and stay fit rests with each and every individual.
Americans suffering from obesity spend over $190 billion each year in medical costs directly associated with obesity related condition, while a massive $450 billion is the indirect cost to the economy arising from factors such as lost productivity . The American Medical Association recently acknowledged obesity as formal disease terming it to be “multi-metabolic and hormonal disease state” . As a result of this announcement, millions of obese American became known as victims of a genetic and hormonal illness. This decision takes the focus away from a large number of people who are overweight simply because they lead unhealthy lives. Ignoring the role that eating behavior plays in a person’s weight is a very serious oversight that could have severe implications in the nation’s drive to control the obesity epidemic.
Americans have awoken to the fact they are facing severe problem and have shown great enthusiasm to lose weight. However, instead to tasking responsibility for leading healthier lifestyles, they seek easy solutions that yield swift results. As Hebrew University nutrition expert Elliot Berry notes, there is no easy way out for those suffering from obesity – they need to eat smart and exercise . Medical science does offer alternatives such as gastric bypass surgery and metabolic and bariatric surgery for those who suffer from severe cases of obesity. However, such procedures are extremely expensive, have tremendous long term side effects and still require patients to undergo severe lifestyle changes, particularly relation food intake. In addition to medical procedures, the multi-billion diet industry has mushroomed, offering desperate consumers the option to lose weight fast by following a strict diet for a limited time period . However, while those undertaking such diets may initially lose weight, they will quickly regain this weight if they do not change their eating patterns permanently.
It is the challenges being faced in controlling the growing incidence of obesity and its dire implications for citizen health and national economy that have moved the government to take unprecedented measures to mitigate the situation. However, as expert panelist for the Wall Street Journal, Marion Nestle, notes – for decades, the government has been inadvertently been promoting unhealthy eating amongst the populace. Citing examples such as governmental support for processed foods instead of fruits and vegetables, allowing beverage and food organizations to deduct their marketing costs from taxes, allowing food stamps to be used to purchase fast food thereby empowering fast food companies to target low income groups, Nestle posits that government policies encourages consumers to eat more, and not eat healthy . Over time, post the 1980s in particular, overeating and binging on fast food has become a habit, a part of the American lifestyle.
Children have been specifically targeted by marketing campaigns. With an increasing number of American households have both parents working; there is little time for children to be provided with healthy, home cooked meals. As a result, it has become common for young children to regularly feast on upsized meals that have little nutritive value but pack on a large amount of fats. Imbibed with this habit at an early age, these children grow up to become adults who have been suffering from weight issues for a long time and find it extremely challenging to change their lifestyles. It is quite obvious that children cannot be expected to choose fruits and vegetables over a nicely packaged Happy Meal. The responsibility of promoting healthy eating habits at an early and raising awareness amongst parents about healthy eating alternatives is the need of the hour.
The fact that the government has not started dictating private behavior comes as no surprise. It is not only popular opinion but also an academic one that, for America to be able to combat its obesity problem, its people need to be more responsible about what they eat. Kerch and Morone note that governmental interference in private behavior is driven by social activism against the very policies that the government itself had implemented – similar to the ones notes by Nestle .
In order to govern private behavior, the government is increasingly forcing consumers to make decisions that they may otherwise not be inclined to make . On the other hand, there are initiatives such as ‘Let’s Move’ by Michelle Obama that have been inspiring Americans to eat healthy and work out more often. Fast food companies have responded to the call for healthier foods by developing seemingly nutritious food offerings. While these products may be better when compared to their predecessors, they are not healthy food choices. It only leads to the misconception amongst consumers accustomed to eating junk food that they are now eating healthy. Fast food companies need to stop marketing unhealthy foods as the healthy choices, especially promoting them for children. At the same time, it is the consumer’s responsibly to know more about what they are eating and feeding their children.
At the end of the day, the government can impose as many regulations as it deems fit and fast food companies can try to improve their offerings as much as possible, however, the decision to eat healthy and live fit rests with the consumers themselves. The inability of obese people to consciously shift to a healthier lifestyle and adopt it as a habit has led to the stigma that overweight people have low self-control and are irresponsible. People acquire a less sympathetic outlook towards them when compared to those suffering from diseases that they cannot control . With the AMA declaring obesity to be a disease, while overweight people may be technically suffering from an illness, it does not change the fact that a majority of the obese can control their condition by controlling their lifestyle.
Hoyt, Crystal L. and Jeni L. Burnette. "Should Obesity be a 'Disease'?" 21 February 2014. The New York Times. 27 February 2014 <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/opinion/sunday/should-obesity-be-a-disease.html?_r=0>.
Kerch, Rogan and James Morone. "The politics of obesity: Seven steps to government action." Health Affairs 21.6 (2002): 142-153.
McKay, Betsy. "What role should government play in combating obesity?" 18 September 2012. The Wall Street Journal. 27 February 2014 <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390444812704577609482961870876>.
Puhl, Rebecca M. and Chelsea A. Heuer. "Obesity Stigma: Important considerations for public health." American Journal of Public Health 100.6 (2010): 1019-1028.
Tanner, Michael. "Obesity is not a disease." 3 July 2013. National Review. 27 February 2014 <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/352626/obesity-not-disease-michael-tanner>.