Obesity has become something of an epidemic in America. The United States has some of the highest prevalence of obesity worldwide. It is estimated that up to 35% of adults and 17% 0f children are obese. These numbers would be higher if the overweight segment of the population is included. Statistics vary on the severity of the problem; however, all experts agree that the situation is getting worse rather than better. It is therefore no wonder that some of the strategies undertaken by some states have been termed as extreme.
Before examining the efficiency of the solutions adopted, it is important to understand the problem. In 1962, the rate of obesity in the USA was recorded at 13% of the total population. By 1997, these numbers had jumped to 19.4%. When a survey was conducted in 2004, 24.55% of the population was found to be obese (Smith, 2009).
Prevalence of Obesity
As the numbers continued to grow, public health officials raised concern over increasing number of obese children. Smith (2009) records that between 1980 and 2008 the numbers have more than tripled for both children between the ages of 6-11 and teenagers. For children, the prevalence rose from 6.5% to an all time high of 19.6%. Among teenagers, the numbers rose from 5% to 18.1 % within the same period. Delaware has the highest prevalence of obese children and teenagers while Wyoming has the lowest numbers at 22.8% and 8.7% respectively.
More children are on the brink of become obese since they are considered overweight. In 2006, 16.3% children were categorized as being overweight and therefore at an increased risk of obesity. Children as young as 2 years were also found to be obese. From these statistics, it is clear that a lot needs to be done to save these children from lifestyle diseases associated with obesity. It is also said that obese children easily grow into obese adults.
These statistics are worrying because obesity in childhood can easily be carried into adulthood. This is because proper eating habits and healthy lifestyles are developed in childhood. If children grow without these standards, they easily slip into unhealthy habits in adulthood. Overweight children often have an overweight parent or guardian. This clearly shows that the root of the epidemic is in the household. The family has failed to maintain a healthy lifestyle within the home.
Health professionals are also worried about prevalence of obesity among American adults. To start with, over half of the population is considered overweight (Campos, 2004). Mississippi leads with 67.4% while District of Columbia has the lowest prevalence at 55% which is still more than half the population. According to a compilation of data on behavioral risk factor assessment done by Centre for Disease Control in 2007, Mississippi had the highest number of obese adults at 34.4 % of the population being obese.
A closer scrutiny of the individuals affected by obesity reveals that African Americans are among the most affected racial groups. The prevalence among Mexican Americans is 23% compared to 21% among African Americans compared to 14% among white non-Hispanics. It was also found that the children of American Indians were at a higher risk of being obese since most were found to be overweight or at risk of being overweight. The poor, especially African Americans receiving food stamps were found to have a high prevalence of obesity compared to those who are not on social support (Bailey, 2006).
Obesity causes a host of health complications too the individuals affected. According to Oliver (2005) the direct medical costs incurred by individuals and the USA government could be as high as $150 billion. These estimates do not include other economic costs associated with severe obesity such as the inability to engage in any meaningful economic activities. This has increased the government’s expenditure on social support and other social services. A lot of time and money goes into anti obesity campaigns which are carried out to increase awareness on the scourge and which will form the subject of this paper (Oliver, 2005).
Causes of Obesity
One of the simplest theories presented to explain the prevalence of obesity in America is that there is more food available for consumption at very low costs. When the national agricultural policy was changed in the 1970’s, it allowed farmers to grow more food and determine their own profits. These agricultural reforms were accompanied by technological advancement which made farming more productive. Farmers produced millions of tons of food are relatively lower costs. This was not unique to America; many other developed countries also went through this phase. Obesity is therefore more prevalent in developed countries due to the availability of food at low prices (Segrave, 2008).
This theory explains the availability of food more than it explains the actual causes of obesity. It is true that when there is more food available to eat, people tend to eat a lot more than they need (Ingram, 2006). This theory fails to identify the eating habits that have led to the current epidemic. However, it gets credit from the fact that since the recession began, obesity levels have gone down. This has been attributed to the increase in food prices occasioned by the recession (Smith 2009).
American society has changed drastically from what it was in the 1950s. Family meals and healthy home cooking which was part of the daily family routine in those days are now a thing of the past (Segrave, 2008). The modern American family does not necessarily have a family meal around the dinner table. Those who still hold this tradition often eat fast food, take out or home delivered foreign cuisines such as Chinese or Thai food. Bailey (2006) reveals that the typical menu for most meals for many Americans includes burghers, doughnuts, French fries, pizzas and soft drinks such as soda.
In addition to poor diet choices, the level of activity among citizens has reduced over the years. People are able to afford a host of energy saving equipment and machines. This means that all facets of American life from work, school and the home require minimal physical effort on the part of the individual. This therefore means that people are eating the same amount of food or even more and doing very little in terms of physical activity (Ingram, 2006).
Another new study found a strong link between sugary drinks and obesity. The consumption of sweet soda and sweetened fruit drinks has doubled in the last 40 years. This ground breaking research found that the consumption of sweetened drinks tampered with the genes responsible for weight control. Consequently, the consumers become genetically predisposed to obesity. Other studies conducted in this area revealed that children who were given calorie free drinks such as water recorded weight loss (Ingram, 2006).
Anti-obesity campaign in New York
It is perhaps such revealing studies and the realities of a seemingly overweight population that drove Michael R Bloomberg the Mayor of New York to launch a spirited campaign against obesity in his city. His efforts came in the wake of Michelle Obama’s own initiative to end obesity among children. The initiative by the first lady was given the title “Let’s Move”. It hopes to tackle the problem of child obesity in this generation and give children a chance to grow into healthy adults. The strategy is to encourage healthier food in the school menu, proper food labeling and additional physical activities for children in school and at home. In contrast, Mayor Bloomberg has chosen scare tactics to shock the public into healthier lifestyles.
On the 30th of May 2012, the mayor proposed a ban on the sale of sweetened coffee, fruit drinks, soft drinks and any other sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. This order will take effect in 2013 if it is approved by the city’s Board of Health. This ban will affect all food establishments that fall under food service outlets. This ban will also affect all fountain drinks and bottled drinks.
In the meantime, the city is using graphic campaign posters that depict several scenarios that are meant to stir emotion and spur individuals into better lifestyles. One of the posters shows a soda bottle from which blobs of human fat are pouring into an overflowing glass. The advert carries the question, “Are you pouring on the pounds?” It then goes on to urge readers to drink water instead and other low calorie drinks like low-fat milk. Finally it warns the readers not to drink themselves fat.
Another campaign poster shows an obese amputee who is allegedly a victim of diabetes which is one of the most common complications of obesity. The fore ground of the poster has three different portions of paper soda cups full of soda. This is used to encourage new Yorkers to drink smaller portions of soda to avoid becoming obese and losing their limbs to diabetes.
The next poster depicts an obese woman who is having difficulty while trying to climb a flight of stairs. Like the previous posters, it contains a warning on the many dangers of obesity caused by having big portions of food and specifically sugary soft drinks.
The posters will be put in 1500 subway cars for a period of three months. This will ensure that as many people as possible get to see the advertisements since the subway is the main artery of the city. The development of the entire campaign from research to the creative work cost the city $277,000. The actual cost of advertising in the subway will be met by the Fund for Public Health which is a private donor.
Analysis of the campaign
Other experts believe that a positive approach would be more efficient. People do not choose to be obese, it occurs as a result of several lifestyle decisions which can be tackled individually. The best solution would be a broad systematic change of the eating culture and social lifestyle of Americans. The city of New York may decide to use the graphic posters in the short run; however, a more comprehensive strategy is needed.
Obesity has affected American society across board. All races, ages and economic classes are affected although not in equal measure. A good strategy would be to tackle childhood obesity and build up a generation of healthy Americans. In New York alone, 43% of elementary school going children are either overweight or obese. The school system has overlooked the importance of physical activity. Many schools are either reducing the amount of time per week spent in gym class or scrapping the program all together. This has been occasioned by shortage of funds to run a fully fledged gymnasium for in public schools. There have been many budget cuts brought about by the recession. The first strategy would be to create policies that will set the minimum requirement for physical activities across all schools in America.
Americans should take an active role in monitoring their caloric consumption and maintaining an active lifestyle. The government can help in this regard by working with major food chains to create healthier menus. This can be done through legal regulations which will stipulate packaging sizes, food content and calories per packet.
Obesity is a major problem in USA. About 37.5% of the adult population is obese. The problem is not only limited to adults because the incidence among children is rising. It is estimated that $ 147 Billion is spent annually on obesity related health complications. All interventions geared towards curbing obesity are therefore highly welcome. The city of New York has initiated such a campaign. The main issue of contention is that the contents of the posters have been criticized as too graphic. The scare tactics may be effective in the short run but nothing has been done to change the unhealthy eating habits that lead to obesity. The proponents of the campaign say that their aim was to shock people into action and that this aim has been achieved judging from the reaction of the public. The debate notwithstanding, it is clear that the solution should go beyond limiting the consumption of large soda and instilling the fear of obesity in people.
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Smith, P. K. (2009). Obesity among poor Americans: Is public assistance the problem?. Nashville, Tenn:
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Oliver, J. E. (2005). Fat politics: The real story behind America's obesity epidemic. New York: Oxford
Segrave, K. (2008). Obesity in America, 1850-1939: A history of social attitudes and treatment. Jefferson,
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Ingram, S. (2006). Want fries with that: Obesity and the supersizing of America. New York: Franklin