In the United States of America, the biggest epidemic that has – figuratively and literally – more than doubled in the last 30 years is: Obesity. In fact, as of 2009 the Center for Disease Control listed obesity in America ranging from 18.7% in Colorado all the way to a staggering 32% in Mississippi, with no states achieving the desired goal of reducing the number of obese adults in their state to 15% (Ward-Smith 242).
The disease of obesity is actually a condition wherein the body accumulates “an abnormally large amount of adipose tissue, or fat” and brings with it numerous components such as “social, cultural, genetic, metabolic, behavioral, and psychological” (DeAngelo, Kalumuck, and Adlin 1). Currently, obesity is the responsible for nearly 18 percent of deaths in the U.S., making it the second highest cause of deaths. In the U.S. more than a third of adults are obese, with black non-Hispanic individuals at 47.8 percent (DeAngelo et al. 2).
Overall, obesity is an overabundance of stored energy, due to the intake of more food than the body can expend in energy. This massive buildup of excess calories then gets stored, mostly in the adipose tissue – or fat – which causes a gain in weight (DeAngelo et al. 2). Although many people – including physicians and the public at large – believe that obesity typically comes from eating too much food and not exercising enough, the truth is much more perplexing, as reported by DeAngelo, et al.: “it has not been possible to prove that overweight people eat more than slender people do” (3).
As a result of obesity, the majority of people who are diagnosed with diabetes are overweight. There are also more common occurrences of high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, cancer (of varying kinds), difficulty breathing, sleeplessness, and arthritis from carrying too much weight on the body (DeAngelo et al. 3). Another problem with obesity is the low quality of life, especially those associated with “bias, prejudice, and discrimination” with “inappropriate responses and unfair treatment to individualsfrom weight bias” (Ward-Smith 242). In fact, one of the most concerning findings by scientists is that the bias against weight is significantly “greater than biases against both gays and Muslims” (Ward-Smith 242).
The only proven, effective treatment in treating obesity is the long-term low-calorie diet with only an 800 to 1,500 daily calorie intake reduction (DeAngelo et al. 4). According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet consists of around 20 to 35 percent of daily calories derived from fat, an ingredient found in very low amounts or even absent altogether from the average American diet (DeAngelo et al. 4).
With so many health risks, conditions, diseases, and chronic health issues, it is no surprise that obesity is “associated with a 36% increase in health care spending, more than monies spent from smoking or alcoholism” (Ward-Smith 243). Prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are meant to suppress the appetite, Chinese herbs and even company programs for weight reduction or wellness are just some of the cost-saving measures being implemented across the country, sometimes with promising results. In fact, as of 2008 more than 40% of U.S. companies had implemented such programs, with an estimate that “for every $1 invested in these programs, the returnis between $0 and $5” (Ward-Smith 244).
With such rapid growth in business, government, and public involvement and awareness, the greatest hope has been to prevent American youth from suffering through the same pitfalls as their grownup counterparts. Sadly, though, one of the most heartbreaking costs of obesity come at the expense of our children, including “consequences on longevity, medical care costs, childhood bullying and teasing” (Gollust, Niederdeppe, and Barry 96). And with the rise of childhood obesity numbers, the long-term effects on the American public are nearly incalculable, because “despite all the attentionthere appears to be a yawning gap between perception and reality” with nearly one-third of overweight members describing their weight as “just right” in one health members study (Ward-Smith 245).
With such a wide gap between reality and fantastic notions of having obesity be “just right”, the next question becomes: How best to prevent or at the very least lessen the damage being done by obesity? In a traditional sense, the most effective weight management methods have been increase of energy use, behavior therapy and prescriptions (Ward-Smith 244). However, a newer method – medical procedures to cure or limit obesity – has become so commonplace that employers are even being ordered to pay for obesity surgeries in court rulings (Ward-Smith 243-44).
Yet, a more far-reaching approach has been underway for the past several years. As reported by Gollust et al., “framing obesity in terms of its multiple consequences can broaden attention to obesity as a serious societal problem warranting government actions” (101). By strengthening public awareness that the disease is more widespread and encompassing than previously understood, the taboo nature of obesity can begin to be lifted away and the healing can finally begin. Interestingly, a previously unnoticed effect of obesity has also led to some promising results. By bringing attention to the fact that childhood obesity was having an impact on military readiness, both liberals and conservatives – usually on opposite sides of the obesity battle – came together, requiring food and beverage companies, along with schools, to join in the fight (Gollust et al., 101).
DeAngelo, LeAnna, PhD, Karen E., PhD Kalumuck, and E. Victor, MD Adlin. "Obesity." Magill’S Medical Guide (Online Edition)(2014): Research Starters. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Gollust, Sarah E., Jeff Niederdeppe, and Colleen L. Barry. "Framing the Consequences of Childhood Obesity to Increase Public Support for Obesity Prevention Policy." American Journal of Public Health 103.11 (2013): e96-e102. Business Source Complete. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
Ward-Smith, Peggy. "Obesity -- America's Health Crisis." Urologic Nursing 30.4 (2010): 242-245. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.