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Obesity

Think back to your grandfather, your grandmother, everyone of that time period. Look at an old picture. Notice anything different than today? Yes. The picture isn’t in color. That’s a fantastic observation. That’s not what we’re here to look at though. Looking at a picture like that, you will probably realize that everyone in it is almost certainly not obese. There may be a few exceptions, but for the most part, everyone is of a healthy weight. Now think about where you work or go to school. Not the same as the picture is it? It almost certainly isn’t. Obesity is much more common in society today than it was back then. That really only begs one question; what changed?

Why are more and more people becoming obese? What is it about our society today that makes it so easy to be overweight? It’s not even just here in America. Worldwide obesity rates have been skyrocketing. In fact, since 1980 the global obesity rate has doubled (Carollo). Why has the obesity rate of the entire world doubled in the last thirty years? What has changed among people? In this paper, we will analyze this obesity epidemic, and try to find some reason why this has happened to the world.

Comparing Japan and the USA in Obesity

Let’s start by taking a look at Japan. Japan is highly advanced in terms of technology and industry. Japan is very similar to the U.S. in a lot of ways. However one major difference between the U.S. and Japan is the obesity rate. In the United States of America the obesity rate of adults is 35.7% (“Overweight and obesity”). More than one third of adults in America are considered obese. However, Japan’s obesity rate is less than 5% (Nakamura). What is Japan doing differently? Japanese methods of handling the obese are notoriously cruel. They recently passed a law setting a maximum waistline for citizens over the age of forty. That is certainly one difference between the U.S. and Japan. Diet is probably another key factor in the difference between America and Japan. Americans tend to eat lots of beef, and other meats, while Japanese are more likely to eat foods like fish, or other seafood. That is not to say that all Japanese citizens eat seafood more than beef, because that’s almost certainly not true, as McDonalds, and many other American restaurant are extremely popular in Japan. But in general, Japanese consume less beef and other meats, and more fish.

It’s clear that American diet is somewhat of a problem. Even the lunches schools provide to children are generally considered to be unhealthy. Childhood obesity is on the rise in America, and school lunches, although certainly not solely responsible, have to take some responsibility right? You would think so, but when this issue came to the United States Congress, they found that it would be easier to just dance around the problem. In order to satisfy the complaints of the masses Congress decided that, instead of setting guidelines for school lunches, they would just claim that pizza counts as a vegetable. In late 2011, Congress passed a law that said that the sauce of pizza counts as a vegetable, and therefore, you can get your vegetable servings by eating pizza (Linkins). This once again brings us back to the difference between the United States and Japan. When American government is faced with a situation involving obesity, they simply change the definitions of things to make people be quiet. In Japan, they enforce strict laws that try to regulate obesity.

What is to Blame?

Medical advancements may also be partially to blame. Why should someone watch their weight, if they can just go have a surgery, and fix their obesity that way. Sadly, it seems that this way of thinking is becoming more common. America alone has more than 220,000 weight loss surgeries per year (Hartocollis).These surgeries could be giving people an excuse to eat that last piece of pizza, or not go exercise. These medical technologies are in some cases being abused. Surgeons like having patients, so instead of encouraging people to go out and exercise, or change their lifestyle, they operate on them. Obesity is a real problem. It is an epidemic. It is killing people, whether or not they realize it. In fact, obesity is linked to Type 2 diabetes, Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), Hypertension (high blood pressure), Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), Stroke, Liver and Gallbladder disease, Sleep apnea and respiratory problems, Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint), and Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility) (“www.cdc.gov”). With all of these problems, and roughly 35% of the American population being obese, the CDC estimates that about $147 billion dollars are spent in the medical care costs of obesity. That figure is just for the United States. There are roughly 300 million American citizens. That means that to pay those medical costs, it would cost each American roughly $490.

Our own biology may also be to blame for obesity. According to John Hoffman, who is vice president of HBO Documentary Films and an executive producer of The Weight of the Nation series. For some diet and exercise aren’t enough. People’s bodies may just be built differently and burn far less than others. Someone with a body type like this may be required to either eat less or exercise more than a normal person. This could be another contributing factor to American obesity. However, if this is the case, and so many Americans are at risk based on their biology, then why didn’t Americans of the past, who passed on this biology to us, have the same problem as us?

Food intake is also a major part of obesity. Ninth graders whose schools are within a block of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are a quarter of a mile or more away, according to a study of millions of schoolchildren (Rabin). Just being close to fast food establishment increases the risk for obesity. So clearly fast food is a cause of obesity. Fast food is so abundant in our society that now a vast amount of people are located very close to these restaurants. Perhaps the convenient locations of places that offer such high fat and calorie content meals is the problem. When you take all of this information, it really doesn’t make the picture that much more clear. There are so many factors when it comes to obesity that there isn’t one cause. There are many. Firstly, overeating and lack of exercise are the two most important factors. However, someone could easily get by just sticking to one of those things. An example would be athletes who train for long periods of time for their sport. Due to the excess calories they burn from their exercises, they are forced to eat far more than a normal person to maintain their weight. The real problem with America, and the world, in terms of obesity, is that we just don’t seem to want to give effort. Everyone has the choice, with the exception of a very select group of people with extremely serious medical conditions, to be thin or not. If someone really wants to lose weight, they can. Blaming things like restaurants is just a somewhat crazy idea. Yes, restaurants supply food, but gun stores provide ammunition, and I don’t see anyone blaming them for murder.

I personally feel that in the past, our ancestors were just forced to work harder, and food was harder to get. I doubt my grandfather could have just waltzed into a store and grabbed a two-thousand calorie meal in five minutes, for a very cheap price. He would have had to either go home and make a meal himself, of go to a more expensive restaurant. I know my grandfather also worked a much more physically demanding than most people do today. My grandfather did construction, and there weren’t as many wonderful tools as there are today. When someone worked back then, they worked. They used muscle, not technology. Technology makes things easier, which is fantastic. However we must realize that by making things easier, that means we are working less, and we need to make up for it in some way. Whether it be by eating less or moving more is up to us. We cannot just keep on going as we have been in the past though. If we do, we will end up gaining weight.

The Obesity Epidemic

This “Epidemic” is caused by not wanting to change. Maybe it’s wired into us, but we generally work, eat, sleep, leisure. Those are the main things that we do in life. However, as a result of our advancement two of those categories have started to change drastically. The leisure has become different. Older generations used to go out with friends and play sports much more. People today will just sit at home and play video game sports with their friends. Not everyone, but a large amount of people have switched over from real life activity to virtual activity. The work done by people in advanced countries has also changed quite a bit. In America, the big economy driver used to be manufacturing. Using our hands to put things together, or tear them apart. All of this burned calories, but now manufacturing has been shipped out to other countries like China. This is where our lack of willingness to change comes in. We seem to love these four categories of work, eat, sleep, and leisure. Now that a lot of the things that people do for leisure don’t require physical activity, we are forced to make a change. We either need to cut our food intake, or exercise in a way that isn’t very fun, like running on a treadmill.

So what is the real cause? The real cause is advancement. Advancement is breeding laziness, and from the laziness, obesity will rise. If you want to do something about this obesity epidemic, there is a very simple solution. Stop just sitting around. Go out and run, or cut your food intake. It really is that simple. No one wants to be fat, but those who are don’t seem to actually have the drive to fix it. They just sit on the couch, watching TV, eating chips and wondering why they’re fat.

Then why do countries like Japan have a much lower obesity rate then us? That’s actually a pretty tricky one. The only real reason that I see are cultural differences. However, just like in the U.S., Japan’s obesity rate has been going up in the last several decades. However, this is probably a result of our culture spreading into Japan. As American culture spreads to countries that have very low obesity rates, the obesity rate goes up. What does that tell you about our obesity problem?

Culturally, Americans have started to love convenience. We love things that are easy, and simple, and don’t take much time or effort. This is a prime example of why fast food has flourished here. If you want to just stop and grab something on the way to work or school, you can. You don’t need to prepare anything, and it’s going to be cheap. Since our meals are more convenient, and take less time and money to accomplish, people start to feel like they can have more than usual. No one in their right mind would cook three full course meals while working full time would they? That would just take way too much effort. However, if you add things like fast food, it is very reasonable to see someone stop and grab a meal on the way to work, and then again during their lunch break, and then again on the way home. It takes a total of maybe fifteen to twenty minutes. If you were to try to cook meals at home it could take hours of preparation and cooking for the food to be complete.

What can someone do to prevent themselves or their children from becoming obese then? I think people need to realize that it’s just math. Math will decide whether or not you gain weight. If your metabolism burns 1,500 calories a day, you eat 2,500, and only burn 500 through various exercises throughout the day, that means that you are +500 calories. It may not be pretty to try to do the math, but that is what our society has come to. Food is just so easily accessible, and so high in fat content, that if you aren’t careful you could unknowingly overeat by hundreds or even thousands of calories per day.

A few changes need to take place in our country to try to fight this problem. Nutritional information should be everywhere. A person should not have to look online to see how many calories, grams of fat, protein, or anything are in their cheeseburger. This information should be right on the wrapper. This goes for all food. Restaurants should be forced to put the nutritional information of each item right next to its listing on the menu. Places may be afraid that revealing this information so easily will turn people off of their food. That’s probably right. Someone who has no idea that the meal they usually eat is 2,800 calories will probably feel more inclined to either split the meal with someone or take some of it home. If places are worried about people not buying their food because it’s too unhealthy, perhaps they should reduce the portions, or replace it with something healthier.

Conclusion

In conclusion, people are obese for different reasons, or even combinations of reasons. The main two reasons are overeating and living a sedentary lifestyle. All other reasons are merely reinforcing one of these two behaviors. Fast food reinforces overeating, and technology advancing to the point where we don’t really have to do anything reinforces the sedentary lifestyle. As our culture of technology and quick, fattening food expand into other countries, they too will begin to have the same obesity problems as America. Obesity is a complex issue, but it can be beaten with a little hard work and dedication. If someone truly doesn’t want to be fat they have that option. That is why calling it an epidemic is sort of confusing. It is an epidemic because it is killing large amounts of people. However I’m not sure you can consider something an epidemic if it can be defeated by running on a treadmill for thirty minutes a day.

Citations

“Adult Obesity.” Overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Carollo, K.. “Global Obesity Rates Doubled Since 1980.” Abc news. Hartocollis, A.. “Young, obese and in surgery.” New York Times. Hoffman, J.. “Eat more, move less: What's driving the obesity epidemic.” Linkins, Jason. “How Pizza Became A Vegetable Through The Magic Of Influence-Peddling.” Huffington post. .Nakamura, D.. “Fat in Japan? You're breaking the law..” Global post “Overweight and Obesity.” www.cdc.gov Rabin, R.. “Proximity to fast food a factor in student obesity.” New york times.

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