An excellent example of a research paper by V.S.
It's in all the media outlets; obesity is on the rise in the United States. "More than one-third of adults or over 72 million people were obese in 2005-2006 (CDC)." These stories tell us that Americans are the fattest people in the world and the number of people who are obese is getting higher every year. How would a sociologist view what the causes are for this trend? How does obesity affect our society as a whole? Who has been affected the most? What can we do as a society to reverse the trend?
First I want to define what obesity is and the health risks associated with diabetes. According to MedicineNet.com, obesity is the state of being well above one's normal weight (Medicine). This includes being twenty percent over one's ideal weight or a BMI over thirty and above. When a person has been diagnosed with obesity, they increase the risks of getting various illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, loss of eyesight, loss of a limb or kidney and some types of cancer.
Americans are taught to view themselves as an individual; therefore we view the issue of obesity as the inability of the obese individual to control the amount of food they consume. Overweight people are seen as being lazy, lacking self-control, and being over-emotional. A sociologist would view the obesity problem with a broader view of what the social patterns are showing them. This is in contrast to what the individualistic mentality of our society tells us.
There are many conflicting views as to the causes of obesity. Some researchers say it's due to the types of foods we eat, how food is processed, the increase of people eating away from home, and the decrease of daily physical activity. One or more of these factors may be influencing the rise of obesity in the United States.
In America, we are always on the go. It seems we don't have time to cook, between working long hours and taking children to their various activities. Getting a quick and easy meal on the way is the norm. These meals are often high in calories and high in fat. We no longer have to work the fields, hunt for food, or gather the food we need to nourish us. There are a vast number of companies who do that for us. All we have to do is hop into our cars, drive to the store or restaurant, pick up the food and drive back home. "The growth of the fast food industry has made an abundance of high-fat, inexpensive meals widely available (Schlosser)." With both parents often working 12-15 hours a day, this has become an easy way to feed our families. With this increased convenience we are no longer doing the activities that once helped us burn off the calories that occurred when we had to do most of the work.
Most experts agree that inactivity is a major factor in the growing obesity rate. "In the United States people have become increasingly sedentary, driving to work instead of walking, performing little manual labor, driving to do errands, watching television, playing video games, and using a computer instead of exercising. Budget cuts have eliminated physical education programs at many of our schools. Because of the long hours most people put in at their jobs, they are often too tired to think about exercising. What usually happens is that families tend to watch television or play on their computers. Our children are adopting the same habits as what the adults around them are doing. When I was a child I remember playing outside with all my friends when we got home in the evenings. It was often hard for my parents to get me to go inside for the night. We were always outside playing on weekends as much as we could. Television was considered a treat to watch. Today it's like pulling teeth to get children to go outside. They would rather sit in front of the television or play their video games. When they do go outside they are usually begging to come back inside within a short span of being out.
There is another concern our society needs to worry about. Adults are not the only ones dealing with the obesity crisis. Childhood obesity is climbing at an alarming rate. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children ages 6-19 are obese. The obesity rate for children ages 2-5 and 12-19 years old has doubled, while the ages of 6-11 has tripled during the last 30 years (Children). With this increase in the number of children who are obese, so has the number of health problems that are normally seen in adults risen. More children are being treated for Type 2 diabetes then ever before. The number of heart disease related cases has also risen in children. What are the factors leading to this increase?
Just like the adults, children are leading a more sedentary life. They often are seen watching television or playing video games when they get home from school. Also the educational system has been a factor in the decline of physical activity in our children today. Our schools are under funded and often have to make cutbacks in the planning of their budgets. The programs that suffer the most are the music and physical education programs. In the late seventies and early eighties, PE was a required class that was attended by all ages on a daily basis. Today most schools require children to spend much less time in PE classes. Its no wonder some children don't want to be physically active, when there is no motivation to change.
Statistics show that obesity is affected according to ones socioeconomic standing, race-ethnic background and gender. "Non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American women are more likely to be obese than white women (CDC)." It is agreed among the experts that a person who has limited resources, poor, or a minority are more likely to be obese then those who have more resources available to them. Families, who are limited in their incomes, often have to choose foods that are cheaper and not as nutritious. Fast food restaurants like McDonald's have a larger appeal to these families. In many of these families, medical insurance is not an option and are often not treated for medical issues that arise with obesity. When a condition does become more serious then the costs for these families are worse than for those with medical insurance.
The effects that obesity has on our society have been enormous. With the major health problems that an obese person can face, there are often more visits to the doctor or longer stays in the hospital. This means that they can miss time from work and family. The cost for a person who has obesity related illnesses has risen according to how many health problems a person has. "Obesity is estimated to account for 12 percent (100 billion) of U.S. health care costs (Fat City)." According to the Institute of Medicine "Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999 (NACHRI)." This can be a problem for a person who does not have medical insurance, when having to choose between medical care and paying the rent. So when they are hospitalized it is often worse than if they had been able to seek medical treatment at an earlier time. Time away from work is another issue that people who are obese face. They often miss more time away from work than their thinner co-workers. This causes a burden on the employer. When an employee misses work, projects are not being completed and all work falls behind schedule.
I think that the people in our society need a wake up call and let our government officials know that change is needed. First our schools need more funding to provide physical education classes. We need to get our children moving, because the trend is now affecting our children and they are getting the same health problems that adults are. According to the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions, experts recommend that elementary children should participate in at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week and that older children should participate in at least 225 minutes of physical activity. The only state that requires daily physical education classes is Illinois (NACHRI). If other states followed Illinois lead than there could be a significant reduction in childhood obesity.
Secondly we need to educate adults on more ways to include physical activity into their busy lives. Some of the larger companies are providing incentives to their employees to become active and lose weight. There are many companies who are either putting gym facilities at their worksites like Intel or are paying for their employees gym memberships. If working in a place that does not offer these incentives, then they need to be educated on other less expensive ways to get moving. Kaiser Permanente has been showing some very clever commercials that encourage viewers to get moving and get healthy.
The third way to help reverse the obesity trend is to educate people on the health benefits of eating healthier. There has been an increase in the media outlets doing just that, showing ways of eating healthier and staying within a set budget. One of the best places to do this is in the schools, along with more physical education classes, there needs to be more classes teaching on ways to make better choices of foods. And to make an example of making better choices, then the schools need to take out the junk food machines and provide better choices for snacks. Health professionals need to become more proactive and get out into the communities to teach about ways to become healthier. There have been some cities who have taken on the crusade to become a healthier community. In the article "Fat City," the authors discussed how in the year 2000, the mayor of Philadelphia wanted to change his city's status of being the fattest city. He launched a program called "76 tons in 76 days" He enlisted the support of the basketball team the Philadelphia 76ers, and launched a huge media campaign to encourage the citizens to lose 76 tons in 11 weeks. Approximately 26,000 people participated in the challenge and lost an average of 5.3 pounds each. From encouraging restaurants to provide healthier meals, providing line-dance classes to city employees to free fitness programs the city succeeded in losing approximately 137,800 pounds. In 2004 the city dropped to the seventh position (Fat City). Currently a television show called the "Biggest Loser Couples" is encouraging the rest of Americans to lose a million pounds. They show each week how different cities and towns have banded together to lose weight. I think Americans are fed up with being called the fattest country in the world and want to change.
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