Why Our Pants Don’t Fit: America’s Obesity Epidemic
Ever wonder why Americans have become more obese over time? When traveling abroad, notice the underlying factor of the people who eat just as much as we do? They’re far skinnier but, why? While many other countries have experienced significant increases in obesity, no other developed country is quite as heavy as the United States. Some factors that play a role in the American obesity epidemic are genetics, metabolism, culture, illness, environment, and psychological issues.
Obesity can be defined as a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body. This condition carries huge risks to the livelihood of a person. Why are Americans suffering from obesity now more than ever? Researchers have come up with many possible reasons as to why this epidemic is what it is today. Body mass index (BMI) is the most common measurement tool to assess body fat, calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. In order for an adult to be declared overweight, their BMI must be within 25-29.9. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) reported that 134 million adults are overweight in the United States (U.S.). For an adult to be obese, their BMI must be within 30-39.9. About 64 million adults are obese in the U.S. An adult is considered morbidly obese when their body mass index reaches 40 or more. 15 million adults are morbidly obese in the U.S. Lastly, super obesity is declared when a person’s BMI is 50 or more. About 15,000 adults in the United States are super obese. These statistics are alarming and is a potential danger to children of both parents who are obese and who are not (ASMBS).
Obesity risk is two to eight times higher for a person with a family history as opposed to a person with no family history of obesity, and an even higher risk is observed in cases of severe obesity (Genetics). Carbohydrate metabolism disorders are a group of metabolic disorders. Normally your enzymes break carbohydrates down into glucose. This means one’s body cannot break down the carbs that are eaten. This becomes dangerous when all those fats build up in one’s body. These disorders are inherited and come from the genes of the family (“Carbohydrate Metabolism Disorders”).
How many friends and family members do you hear attribute (or blame) their flattering figure (or weight problem) to metabolism? Let’s face it. Some people view and treat their metabolism as a curse while others honor it as a blessing. Which one are you? Metabolism is the sum of the physical and chemical processes in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed, and by which energy is made available. BMR stands for basal metabolic rate. It’s a measure of how fast your body utilizes (burns) energy while you’re resting. Having a high BMR helps burn fat faster, while a person with a low BMR will have a harder time burning fat. Many different factors help affect a person’s BMR such as: gender, age, height, weight, and muscle mass. Obesity can be linked to metabolism because a person’s body plays a role in the breakdown of food. The slower the metabolism, the less calories burned, the more weight gained. While the faster the metabolism, the more calories burned, the more weight lost (“How Your Metabolism Works”).
For many people, culture weighs more than biology on their body. Different cultures entail different surroundings, foods that you choose, prepared a different way, different seasonings, and different amounts eaten. These practices can be embedded into one’s mind as they grow and nourish themselves. Culture can be described as:
Where one lives, one’s family size and composition, age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, education level and that of one’s family, occupation and the occupations of family members. Culture permeates every aspect of life, including how much exercise is retained and one’s own body is viewed.
Eating habits are based upon a person’s beliefs. As person culture affects how a person feels about eating and gaining weight, cultural values explain how people think of being fatter/thinner than others. As of 2010, 75% of adults weighed in as overweight, obese, or extremely obese. This is considered by many health experts to be an epidemic, however, to some cultures, weight is just a number (Sussex Publishers).
Most weight gain is a result of overeating, but some excess weight can be blamed on diseases. One disease is hypothyroidism. This condition is when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism. Therefore, too little of this hormone causes a slow metabolism, resulting in weight gain.
Another condition that causes weight gain is the Cushing’s syndrome. This condition results when the adrenal glands produce an excess amount of steroid hormones called cortisol. Eventually this leads up to weight gain in places like the back, face, and abdomen. Lastly, depression. While some can be depressed, they tend to overeat and rely on eating to make them happier. This obviously leads to a weight gain (“Medical Causes of Obesity”).
The lack of physical activity plays a huge role in the dramatic obesity rates of the United States. When the U.S. made the transfer from agricultural to industrial, hard labor in open fields turned to desk jobs in the city. This alone cut the average person’s physical activity of the day. The small amount of physical activity that many may believe does not make a difference, does.
For example, walking, anyone would much rather drive their cars around than walk from place to place. It is much easier to walk to the elevator or escalator at the mall, rather than to the steps. Of course, we would all rather shop for clothes, groceries, and even medicines online instead of going to the stores. Using the steps, walking to get the kids from their nearby school, or going to buy some fruits and vegetables, makes all the difference in the amount of physical activity an average person acquires in a day without even realizing it.
The lure of fast food joints and food advertising around us encourages people to grab a quick bite full of high fatty-calories. These foods are rich in calories but poor in the nutrients that your body requires. If one resides in a place with many fast food joints, after a busy day at work, it is easier to skip cooking and eat from those restaurants because the food is cheap, tasty, and easily available. Now a days, parents work long hours every day. After a day’s work, the easier option may be to drive through the McDonald’s drive thru, rather than start cooking. Eight hour work days do not encourage a home cooked, healthy, and nutritious meal.
Lastly, an environmental factor that affects obesity rates is a low socioeconomic status. A person’s socioeconomic status refers to a status with respect to others based on characteristics such as income, qualifications, type of occupation, and location of living. Studies show that people with lower socioeconomic statuses are more vulnerable to obesity rates because of their dietary habits and the lack of physical activity. Their diets consist of saturated fats and carbs due to the fact that these foods are simply less expensive and more easily accessible than fruits, vegetables, grains, and fiber. The lifestyle, environment, and food habits of Americans greatly depend on how healthy they are and is closely linked to obesity (Thomas).
Depression is the most obvious psychological issue that affects obesity rates. People tend to binge eat way more often when facing depression. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Forty-three percent of adults with depression were obese, and adults with depression were more likely to be obese than adults without depression.” There is a direct correlation between obesity and depression and several studies prove this. A study showed adults of the ages 20 and over who were obese and whether or not they are depressed. Based on this information, the number of obese and depressed adults is way higher than adults not obese and not depressed (“Depression and Obesity”).
While of course, there are underlying factors to obesity that cannot be blamed on the person, there are also causes that the people control. Since 1980, the amount of calories expended has remained the same, while the amount consumed has remarkably risen. A theory was proposed in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Mass preparation of foods can absolutely change the calorie intake. Technological innovations—including vacuum packing, improved preservatives, deep freezing, artificial flavors and microwaves— have enabled food manufacturers to cook food centrally and ship it to consumers for rapid consumption. Consumption increased when eating turned from individuals cooking and cleaning to mass production being heated up. David Cutler, professor of economics, stated, “In 1965, a married women who didn’t work spent over two hours per day cooking and cleaning up from meals. In 1995, the same tasks take less than half the time. The switch from individual to mass preparation lowered the time price of food consumption and led to increased quantity and variety of foods consumed.” Therefore, because mass production of food eliminated the time and money it used to take to consume, people are eating way more for way less. Food being easily accessible and cheap, people are subject to eat more (Shapiro).
The way food is presented plays a huge role in the way in which it is consumed. Normal people see the signs and commercials every day. For example, 24 hour signs, the Big Gulp commercial, a 4-for-4 meal, etc. With these temptations surrounding people of America everywhere, it makes it that much harder to resist. Americans eat out a lot and they are cooking less. That is leading us to chow down more than we would if we were home. Much more calories are consumed when going out to dinner, rather than if we were home cooking meals. To understand why that happens, consider data from this recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. At 123 restaurants in San Francisco, Boston, and Little Rock, restaurant dishes contained 1,200 calories, on average — about half of the 2,000 or 2,500 calories recommended for moderately active women and men in an entire day. At least once a week, average families are eating at a restaurant. With eating out, comes portion size. The portion sizes have gone up an average of four times the size as they were in the 1950’s. This can be seen in figure 2 (Barclay).
Today, each American puts on an average of 195lbs of meat every year, compared to just 138lbs in the 1950’s. Obesity rates rise of course, when people guzzle soda all day. More and more parents of today’s America are feeding their children soda, rather than milk, juice, or water. This definitely contributes to not only obesity rates, but diabetes and tooth decay as well (Barclay).
Before it is too late, help yourself. After being presented with all of these facts, America continues to suffer from this obesity epidemic. However, there are ways to ensure health. One way may be to keep active. The easiest way to steer clear from obesity is to maintain an active lifestyle. Simple ways, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator could help stay healthy. Most people believe that going to the gym necessarily proves health and fitness, but, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the easier way of keeping active is right in front of one, without even realizing it.
Another way to maintain a healthy weight is of course, eat healthy. The FDA recommends an average person consumes 2,000 calories a day. This includes foods such as dairy, meat, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. By just transforming one’s diet, into one that mirrors the FDA’s, health can be salvaged. The reality of this is that getting oneself up on to a scale is difficult but it is a vital step in reaching the goal of obtaining healthy weight. Once the scale increases, necessary measures could be taken to ensure obesity isn’t reached.
Keeping tabs on one’s own body can go a long way. Hydration is key. Many people mistake hunger for dehydration. Water cleanses and detoxes the impurities in our bodies. It is important to drink eight to ten glasses a day. Doctors recommend patients get a checkup once a year in order to prevent complications. This way, if anything is unusual, the doctor can treat it while it’s early. Get one step ahead of yourself. Lastly, only eat when feeling actually hungry. Some tend to eat when bored. Jessie Maguire said, “Studies have demonstrated that people who are naturally slim are thin because they only eat when they are hungry. Only eating when one’s body lets them know it needs nourishment is an excellent way to avoid obesity.” The latest technology makes working out and working in sync. Amazon now sells a desk with a treadmill attached. This treadmill desk now eliminates people sitting in a cubical all day, only moving to eat. Video games have also tried to increase the physical activity in children. Wii started with making the Wii Fit, where the player stands on a board and mimics the television playing sports like tennis or baseball etc. Dance Dance Revolution is a game in which has a dance floor and the player follows the steps from the screen. There are several more interactive video games that make the children not going outside to play, a little healthier. These are only some of the many ways to prevent obesity (Maguire).
Ultimately, there are a variety of reasons that have caused this obesity epidemic in America today. Things such as metabolism, illnesses, genetics, culture, environment, and psychological issues have led to these excessive obesity rates throughout the United States. Whether it be a lack of exercise or a poor diet, Americans have ate their way into being the country with highest obesity rate on the planet. However, there are numerous ways to overcome obesity. It is essential that Americans watch what they eat and how much is eaten on a daily basis. Additionally, it is important that people exercise every day, whether it’s working out at a gym or even taking a walk around the block. Keeping one’s body in check is significant to living a long, healthy life. Eating healthy and exercising aren’t the only two things to prevent obesity.
Things such as getting enough sleep, drinking water, etc. are crucial to staying healthy and preventing obesity. The dangers of obesity are menacing; it can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. It is not too late to turn this epidemic around for the better. In order to do this, children and teenagers must be informed of how perilous obesity really is and what it can lead to.
Why Our Pants Don’t Fit: America’s Obesity Epidemic