Obesity: A Public or Private Issue?
Imagine a world where a school aged child can step out of their school and walk into a McDonalds. A world where soda companies make millions of dollars a year by placing soda machines in schools. A world where 30.5 percent of adults are considered obese. A world where obesity is killing more people than smoking. What if I told you this world is not in your imagination but is the world we live in today?
Where would you turn to seek help for this epidemic? Some say the government should take charge of the situation like in the cases of seatbelt and smoking laws. Others say that it is the responsibility of the private sector. People are responsible for their health, so the government should not be involved. I agree with both sides of the issue. The government should have some control over what people are consuming, but the majority of the responsibility for obesity is in the private sector of America.
Since the 1960’s obesity in America has more than tripled regardless of sex or race. Today 30.5 percent, or 69 million, American Adults are considered obese (“AOA Fact Sheets” np). In addition, 13 percent of children aged 6-11 years old are considered overweight, and well on their way to becoming obese. Obesity causes over 300,000 deaths a year and costs the country $117 billion dollars, prompting health care providers and the government to label it an epidemic (“Overweight and Obesity…” np).
The healthcare community defines obesity as being 20 percent or more over a person’s ideal body weight, which is based on their height (“U.S. Health Professionals…” np). Usually this is 100 pounds or more over their ideal body weight. Researchers found that the two main causes of obesity are the overabundance of food and people’s sedentary lifestyles (“U.S. Health Professionals…” np). Other causes include genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental factors. These alarming statistics have prompted many to seek a solution for a problem that is clearly not going to go away by itself.
Obesity moved across the nation without regard to sex, race, and age, or so it seemed. However, it strikes some groups more than others. Furthermore, 69 percent of non-Hispanic black women are overweight or obese and 58 percent of non-Hispanic black men are overweight or obese (“Overweight and Obesity…” np). Studies show that minorities in a lower socioeconomic bracket are more likely than whites in a higher socioeconomic bracket to become obese (“AOA Fact Sheets” np). It is cheaper to feed five children on $1 fast food hamburgers than it is to feed those same five children a nutritious meal for $25 (Resler np). Since the 1960s the only food not to decrease in price is fruits and vegetables (Marano np).
Obesity also is most likely to occur in the suburbs and the inner cities. African-Americans and Hispanics have higher population rates in the inner city than Whites. People who live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and bike paths, usually those in the city, are less likely to walk or bike anywhere. This leads to an increase in the sedentary lifestyle that is a major cause of obesity (“U.S. Health Professionals…”np). Instead they are forced to use cars and buses to get around and usually do not have access to gyms or places to exercise.
One place in the United States that has the highest rate of obesity is the East South Central U.S. This region includes Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. They have an obesity rate of 22.3 percent among adults (“AOA Fact Sheets” np). While no clear cause for the higher obesity levels in this part of the country has been found two possible causes are there is a higher percentage of African-Americans in the south and the Southern States also tend to eat a higher concentration of fatty foods. West South Central United States, (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana), has the second highest rate of obesity among adults with 22.2 percent.
Obesity brings with it many problems. Obese people have a 50-100 percent chance of dying prematurely and 75 percent of people with hypertension are obese (“Overweight and Obesity…”np). Over 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are obese (“Overweight and Obesity…” np), which leads the public to see that if you are obese you have a greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. For every two pound weight increase your risk of developing arthritis is increased by 9-13 percent. Obesity also leads to a greater chance of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer (“Overweight and Obesity…”np).
Along with the health complications is the financial aspect of obesity. Many obese people claim disability and receive Medicaid (“Obesity Costs…”np). Over nine percent of all healthcare costs last year were to pay for obesity (“Obesity Costs…”np). As taxpayers, even those who are not overweight, we all are all paying for obese people in America. Over $117 billion went towards funding obesity victims (“Overweight and Obesity…”np). That is $117 billion that could be used in other places to prevent and control this epidemic.
Social situations are also a problem for obese people. Many are the butt of jokes and find that stepping into public is hard so the choose to stay home. For those that choose to leave the house many can not find modes of transportation to fit their size, and walking is too difficult. They often get tired easy and find the best way to avoid these situations is to keep their sedentary lifestyles rather than face the world. This also applies in their working world, where many obese people do not show up to work, thereby starting a cycle of living off the government.
Causes of obesity are identified as genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Some cases of obesity stem from Bardt-Biedel syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome. Genetics can also predispose some people to gain weight faster and retain it longer (“Factors Contributing…”np). Some individuals can diet and exercise but they retain the weight. Studies have also shown that some people are susceptible to a high fat intake, especially when exposed to overfeeding (World Health Organization…134-135). Many Americans today have the genetics that predisposes them to retain weight, and in turn, susceptible to high fat intake. They eat the fats but can not rid themselves of it.
According to “The Causes of Obesity” studies with adoptive children show that obesity runs in families. The adoptive children tend to take on the same weight patterns as their biological parents, not their adoptive family. Many researchers are searching for a fat gene, but as of now none of have been found. Although genetics plays a role in obesity, many families share eating habits and lifestyle choices, making genetics a factor that is not solely responsible for obesity (“The Causes of Obesity” np).
Lifestyle choices include choosing where you want to eat for dinner and what you want to eat. Some people are raised in families where all they eat is high caloric foods. They learn this behavior and continue living it because it is all they know. A little known weight gain factor is when one gives up smoking, which causes a weight gain of three to five kilograms (World Health Organization…139). Heavy smokers, 15 or more cigarettes a day, often gain more than 13 kilograms (World Health Organization…140). The success of the recent anti-smoking campaign has helped to increase obesity rates.
Other lifestyle factors include excessive alcohol intake, reduction in physical activity, marriage, and the birth of a child (World Health Organization…141-142).
Within lifestyle factors is a subcategory of weight gain factors called psychological factors. Although obese people do not have a higher percentage of psychological disorders, people who are obese and have tried to loose weight have a 10 percent higher chance of binge eating (“Obesity:Causes” np). Binge eating causes a high caloric intake. Usually the calories stay with the person because self-esteem issues cause the person not to exercise (“Obesity:Causes” np).
Environmental factors include those factors that occur in your surroundings. One such environmental factor is the abundance of food. Researchers find that as the amount of food increases the percentage of obese people increases (World Health Organization…120-121). Car ownership has increased which says more people are driving rather than walking (World Health Organization…121). Technological advances in the home make cleaning and cooking easier thus decreasing an individuals energy expenditure and increasing the risk of obesity. America has become a country of convenience were people can do their day to day chores and errands with expending the minimal amount of energy and calories (“The Causes of Obesity” np).
Another big environmental factor is the decline of jobs that require labor. Today most jobs require an individual to sit in an air conditioned office or stand behind a cash register (Bartlett np). In past decades food has been readily available but manual labor was needed to produce food. Today, food is produced in excess, but the labor is no longer needed. Individuals sit behind their desks, eating, thus gaining excess weight, and not burning it off (Bartlett np).
As the percentage of obese Americans increases many sectors are starting to feel the pressure to do something about a problem that is an epidemic. Many Americans feel it is the government’s responsibility to control what they call “a government subsidized public health problem” (Marano np). These people believe that it is within the government’s power to regulate what people eat by taxing foods, cutting down on the promotion of high caloric foods within the food stamp and school lunch programs, and by prohibiting candy and soda sales in schools (Faircloth np).
On the other side of the issue are the people who believe obesity is the problem of the private sector and say “calls for government nannying of individual dietary choices are idiotic, and guaranteed to do far more harm, both practical and moral, than good” (Edmonds np). They believe it infringes on their civil rights and the government should not put money toward stopping a problem that stems from individual choice (Edmonds np). This group believes that “America will end its so-called obesity epidemic if and only if obese people make a personal decision to eat smaller portions, eat healthy foods and exercise” (Heather Peoples np).
Although it seems like one can only be on one side or another, there is a third party in this argument, and the choice I believe to be the best. This third party believes that government should take some responsibility in helping to reduce the obesity rate, but the majority of the responsibility lies within the private sector. Their belief is “ultimately, there are some changes we can make in public policy. But in the main, this is not a public policy issue” (Marano np). Pro-Government action groups and Anti-Government action groups can find middle ground in this proposition, which takes the best possible solutions from each group. This caters to almost everyone to accomplish a common goal and is therefore the better choice to stop the rise of obesity of America.
Across the nation several state offices have challenged their employees to loose weight. In Iowa state employees lost 22 tons of fat in five months (Perlman np). In Montana 342 teams walked enough miles to walk across the state in eight weeks (Perlman np). Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue invited state employees to a six-week fitness challenge, which included healthier menu items added to cafeterias (Perlman np). In all the states not only was fitness emphasized, but lifestyle changes as well. The hope was to get people into a groove of sorts that got them moving around, exercising, and eating right (Perlman np). In these cases, the government sponsored prevention of obesity, bringing exercise and lifestyle habits into its offices (Perlman np). If these types of programs could be picked up, or promoted by the government, in other offices, public and private, the sedentary lifestyle choices would start to decrease, and healthy lifestyles promoted.
A second governmental solution is regulation of the food industry, especially the restaurant industry. “Our American view of value right now is stuck in the ‘more for less’ domain” (Hellmich np). America has very large portion sizes in restaurants, a problem that leads to overeating, and increased caloric intake (“Medical Letter…” np). Although people know they should eat less the value of getting more for less appeals to them. They eat the larger portions while spending less money but gain more calories than they burn. The constant cycle of eating more for less leads to rapid weight gain and obesity (Hellmich np). If the government regulated portion sizes in restaurants obesity rates would decrease. Another advantage of this is it would be teaching healthy eating habits and not promoting overeating (Hellmich np).
The government spends 35 billion dollars a year on feeding the poor (O’Beirne np). Through the food stamp program over 20 million people receive food assistance from the government (O’Beirne np). The food stamp program was designed so people could not spend their food money on other things. However, people who receive food stamps have 10 percent higher chance of becoming obese (O’Beirne np). This is because the recipients can not spend the coupons on other things so they buy more food than is needed and their caloric intake increases (O’Beirne np). A solution that would lower caloric consumption and obesity rates is to allot families who receive aid a cash grant in place of the food stamps so the families can decide how much they should spend on food (O’Beirne np). This would keep the amount of foods in houses down and would discourage overeating and stem the obesity tide.
The one other thing the government could do is change the menu for school lunch recipients. Children who eat a breakfast and lunch at school have 42 percent of their total daily calories left for snack and dinner (O’Beirne np). In a recent study in Iowa, school aged children were given fresh fruits for lunch at a cost of $94 per student, per year (Shulruff np). If the government allotted some money that they already give to the school lunch programs for fruits and vegetable children could be exposed to good eating habits at an early age. They could be taught that fruits and vegetables are good snack choices and may start to choose fruits and vegetables over sugary, high caloric snacks. The government should also start to regulate what foods are served in schools, so caloric intake is at a minimum (O’Beirne np).
Although the government should take some responsibility for obesity, the private sector should take some as well. The first thing they need to do is vote for a slight tax increase. Nobody likes to have to pay more in taxes, but the extra tax money could be used to fund schools (“Surgeon General…” np). With the extra money, the schools could stop relying so heavily on soda and candy companies for funds, and possibly get rid of the candy and soda machines in schools (Shulruff np). With the machines gone students will be forced to seek other modes of nutrition. If the machines can not be eliminated from schools, at least parents should demand that they be stocked with more nutritious snacks so some low caloric food choices are available.
Children learn their eating habits from their parents. Proper nutrition and obesity prevention should be taught in the home (“Surgeon General…” np). Parents should limit snacks with a lot of calories and stock the house with fruits and vegetables (“Surgeon General…” np). Along with eating healthy, parents should also monitor portion sizes, and the activities their children do (“Surgeon General…” np). It is a well known fact that children often mimic their parents. While parents are monitoring what their kids eat and how much, they could take this time to practice good eating habits themselves. Yet another way parents can watch their children’s weight is to organize block sports within the neighborhood that kids can participate in to burn off excess calories (“Surgeon General…” np).
Within the private sector there is also a private business sector. These guys can do a lot to help stop obesity. Insurance companies can raise rates for obese people (Hellmich np). If they decide to loose weight their rates can go back down, but if their weight increases again so does their insurance rates. Small restaurants can also help with the problem by volunteering to put nutrition information on their menus (Shulruff np). This way they are paving the way for larger restaurants to do the same, while informing the public exactly what they are eating, and how it affects total daily caloric intake (Shulruff np).
Over one third of American adults are obese prompting healthcare officials and the government to label it an epidemic. Obesity costs this country $117 billion dollars a year and causes more than 300,000 deaths a year (“Overweight and Obesity” np). It leads to hypertension, some cancers, and premature death. Even with all negative problems associated with it, obesity is still on the rise. Some people are looking at the government for help while others would prefer to keep them out of it. The best choice to put a stop to obesity is to have the government hold some responsibility, but have the private sector shoulder most of it. Obesity may be a personal choice but it has many causes, some of which the government can regulate.
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