Obesity: Who’s To Blame? Who’s Responsible?

Obesity is a problem that is worthy of more in-depth examination.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than a third of adults in the United States are obese (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html for more information on obesity).  To me, the fact that weight should be discussed by an organization dedicated to the control and prevention of diseases is itself indicative of a problem.  Weight is much more than a number, and it is much more than a description of someone.  With connections between obesity and other diseases such as type II diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and certain types of cancer being made, we need to take our weight very seriously.  And this isn’t just a personal problem.  The additional cost of being obese is another thing that should make one take notice of the problem.

What are the causes?  There are a variety of causes that span social, economic, racial, gendered, personal, and societal sources.  Many are quick to implicate the prevalence of fast food when the obesity epidemic is mentioned.  As modern lives become even more fast-paced, families have such variant schedules as to make family meals a norm of the past or special weekend occasion, and instant gratification is reinforced on many levels, fast food has definitely becoming an appealing option to many.  The changes in food processing may also be to blame.  Preservatives, artificial flavoring and  coloring, high levels of sodium and fat, and the use of high fructose corn syrup have all come under attack in recent years.  These elements not found naturally in food are being processed differently by our bodies and the products are being metabolized differently.  The effects on our organs, including our brains, should be noted.  Signals to the brain are not being transmitted correctly, nor are the signals that are there being received properly.  These signaling errors can have disastrous effects.


Photo courtesy of http://www.healthkicker.com/731375970/high-fructose-corn-syrup-fighting-back/

How can this problem ever be resolved?  Just as there are several causes of obesity, so too can there be several solutions to this problem.  Better diet and exercise seems to be an overly simplistic solution, but it is crucial and widely recommended. Other solutions including many diet programs, weight-loss drugs, and hormone therapies encourage and are often more effective when combined with a balanced diet and exercise.  A 2003 article examines the legal implications that may exist between obesity and the fast food industry (http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/22/6/207.full), bringing up ethical issues of negligence and failure to warn.  Two recent proposals by the FDA would establish requirements when it comes to labeling, ingredients, and caloric intake (http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm248732.htm).  Some insurance companies have established a policy of providing discounts or rebates to individuals that have a gym membership.  Could a similar precedent be made for individuals that shop for organic, local foods or participate in a farmers’ market?

Photo courtesy of http://www.mlive.com/living/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/09/how_many_calories_in_that_big.html

Where does this information leave us?  Clearly, there is enough blame and responsibility to be shared by many if not all.  While it is easy and makes sense to say it is the responsibility of the individual to make sound choices when it comes to health and wellness, it isn’t that simple.  The cheapest food option tends to be the quickest and most available option for consumption.  When social, economic, racial, and other prejudices and predispositions are considered, it is difficult to conclude that an individual is completely in control of decisions related to health and wellness.  Many options exist, but they are not all available to each person.  Obesity can be examined under the lens of several different social constructs, and only when we are ready to address each obstacle will we be able to improve the quality of life for many.

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