Obesity – Reshaping Our Nation – Obesity

Obesity is a serious disease and it is much more than just being overweight. Being overweight is when body weight is heavier than what is healthy for an individual’s height, but it may be due to other reasons such as bone density and body structure, medications, and not just because of excess body fat. Morbid obesity is the term that refers to the unhealthy condition when the excess body fat becomes dangerous to an individual’s overall health. Most of the time this term is applied to people who are at least 100 pounds over their normal body weight. These conditions appear to be increasing in the American population and public health is being threatened as people add inches to their waistlines and extra pounds to all parts of their bodies. As a result, Americans are becoming unattractive, as well as, unhealthy and there is no end in sight.Medical providers use the body mass index, which is a ratio of body weight to height, as a way to evaluate the effect of body weight on a person’s health. The BMI is measured by multiplying body weight in pounds by 704.5, then dividing that number by body height in inches; then dividing that number again by height in inches. This ratio is not a measurement of body fat tissue, but a general formula used to determine body mass. BMI ranges have been established by the medical field as follows:BMI – Body Weight StatusUnder 18.5 – Underweight18.5 to 24.9 – Normal25.0 to 29.9 – Overweight30.0 to 39.9 – Obese40.0 to 49.9 – Morbidly Obese50.0 and above – Super ObeseObesity can be caused by genetic influences, metabolic abnormalities, poor dietary habits, and bad lifestyle choices such as eating fast-foods and the lack of healthy physical activity. Morbidly obese people are at higher risk for hypertension which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Also, according to the American Obesity Association (AOA), which refers to the condition as “clinically severe obesity”, warn that it can also lead to other problems including type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, gastrointestinal reflux disease, emotional issues, gout, digestion problems, circulation problems, varicose veins, eye and feet problems.The AOA also states that, although rare in the past, obesity has become the most widespread medical problem now affecting children and adolescents today. About 15% of adolescents (12-19 years of age) and children (6-11 years of age) are obese in the United States. Since at least the early 1990s, the numbers for pediatric obesity have continued to increase, and today; represent one of our greatest emerging health challenges.The major reason for this obesity epidemic is due primarily to the change in dietary habits of Americans and the increase and availability of high calorie foods in the diet. The government has long-held that whatever, and how much, an individual eats is strictly a personal choice; a constitutionally guaranteed freedom. As a result, the government only regulates the food industry in broad terms to protect the public from unsanitary conditions, contamination from germs, improper packaging and preparation, bad food products, and the spread of disease. The fact that over 60% of our population has become obese, and over $3 billion dollars a year is spent on obesity-related medical problems has not prompted government intervention. In this vacuum of effective health regulations, the food industry, which is motivated by profits for their share holders, has created many varieties of high calorie foods that have been proven to severely compromise human health. At this time, nothing is being done to correct the problems that cause obesity in our culture, neither from the government or the food industry, so Americans just keep getting fatter.More and more Americans are eating from vending machines, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and making poor food choices in their daily meals due to convenience, lower cost, and because they lack basic knowledge of good nutrition. Before the 1970s, most Americans ate three square meals a day and it was discouraged in most families to eat between meals, especially candy, pastries, and fast-foods. Gradually, more and more snacks have crept into the conventional diet such as popcorn with movies, chewing gum, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, crackers, cake, and potato chips. The advertising industry helped exacerbate the problem by making the snacks so appealing, and kept them in the public’s awareness through clever broad media campaigns. Soon advertisements between prime time television movies were dominated by promotions of “junk food” and snacks. Americans started to crave sweets, potato chips, soft drinks, and high calorie foods. Now, it is an accepted behavior for people to impulsively satisfy their desire for quick energy and consume snacks any time they choose. I guess one could say that the pace has quickened in the rat-race over the past forty years, and so has America’s eating habits and food choices, accordingly. Impulse eating and fast-foods are the trend.The increase of obesity in our society is also due to the increase in meal portions that have become so typical in dining establishments. Many restaurants and cafeterias, competing for business, tend to serve large meals to attract new customers. The individual food portions, and over all size of the meals themselves, far exceed an individual’s ability to eat it all in one sitting. But rather than waste it; value conscious people tend to consume more food than they normally would otherwise. In addition, the food industry has produced so many new refined processed carbohydrates that have come to dominate most of our food choices these days. Perhaps the most significant food additive in recent years is fructose; a simple, inexpensive sugar found in common table sugar and most soft drinks. Another popular food additive is corn syrup, which is an inexpensive sweetener containing fructose, and which has literally been added to most food products on grocery shelves. Obesity has become so wide-spread because there is such a plethora of high calorie food products available, and people are now eating more from the top of the nutritional food pyramid, rather than the lower portions.In a way, the government is responsible for part of this problem because it subsidized the production of corn, soy, wheat, and rice through the U.S. farm bill. This made the main sources of processed food less expensive compared to fruits and vegetables. This agricultural policy, and technical innovations, led to lower food prices throughout the country, so people indulged more and started snacking. Seeing an opportunity, the food industry stepped in and created many new products to satisfy the growing demand from America’s “sweet tooth”, and of course, to earn more profits for their investors from these new dietary innovations.Consumption of high calorie foods, coupled with too little exercise, and an over zealous advertising industry, has caused two out of three Americans now to become overweight. From 1970 into the late 1990s, the average daily calories available to individuals increased in all parts of the world due to changes in food processing, production, and food additives. Snacking became acceptable and has been encouraged by aggressive advertising firms. In the U.S. in 1996, the highest intake rate per person averaged 3,654 calories per day. In 2003, this figure increased to 3,754 calories per day. Even though proper nutritional guidelines were made available from medical and government sources to educate the masses, it had little effect on the public’s overeating and poor dietary choices. Obesity rates in the U.S. increased from 14.5% to 30.9% from 1971 to 2000.During this period an increase also occurred in the average amount of food energy consumed by individuals. The average increase for woman was 335 calories per day; 1,542 calories in 1971 increased to 1,877 calories in 2004. For men, the average increase was 168 calories per day; 2,450 calories in 1971 increased to 2,618 calories in 2004. Most of this extra food energy came from the consumption of extra carbohydrates in sweetened beverages and potato chips. The correlation between the increase in obesity in the general population and the growing reliance on energy-dense, bigger portioned, fast-food meals is obvious. In the U.S., between 1977 and 1995, consumption of fast-food meals tripled, and the food energy intake from these meals quadrupled, resulting in many more fat Americans.Many Americans have developed a sedentary lifestyle which has played a significant role in the increase in obesity as well. In the last forty years, there have been large shifts toward less physically demanding work and activity as technological developments have revolutionized entire industries and major segments of the economy. Currently it is estimated about 60% of the population gets insufficient exercise due to the increased use of mechanized transportation and labor-saving innovations used in new technology in businesses and the home. There appears to be serious declines in general activity among children, as well, due to less walking and less physical education in schools. Studies have shown an association between television viewing, computer use, and the risk of obesity. An increased rate of childhood obesity occurred when there was an increase of media exposure. It was found that obesity rates increased proportionally to the time children spent watching television or using a computer.Genetic and economic influences have also been shown to contribute to the cause of obesity in some ethnicities. Obesity tends to run in some families of certain racial groups such as Native Americans, Eskimos, and some Pacific Islanders. Families with low incomes, or non-working parents, are also more likely to eat excessive meals and snacks compared to their diets during slower activity levels. A child with obese parents, brothers, or sisters is more likely to become obese too. Although genetics alone doesn’t cause obesity, certain inherited traits that determine behavior and dietary preferences in families tend to influence some children to eat more calories than they use. In recent decades, the dietary habits of children and teenagers have shifted away from healthy foods such as fruits, dairy, vegetables, and whole grains; to a greater reliance on processed snack foods, fast-food meals, and especially sweetened beverages. These bad food choices tend to be high in calories, salt, and fat and lower in essential nutrients. They really pack on the extra pounds quickly.If that isn’t enough, several unhealthy dietary habits have also been associated with causing obesity. For example, eating when not hungry, or eating while anxious, and eating while watching television, or doing homework, will cause weight gain. So will drinking soft drinks during sedentary activities like watching videos, or eating candy and popcorn while at the movie theater. These behaviors often result in excessive ingestion of high calorie foods and cause weight gain.When the food and advertising industries are making huge profits by producing and promoting high calorie foods, and when the consumers themselves demand more and more sweetened snacks and desserts, and the medical industry makes billions of dollars each year treating obesity-related illness and disease; then the epidemic of obesity in America is not likely to disappear any time soon.