Genetics: How the American Lifestyle Contributes to Obesity ?
Obesity in America is a continuing crisis that is approaching epic proportions. According to recent studied by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 400,000 Americans die every year from obesity-related diseases and complications. In total, close to $1.25 billion per year is spent on health care for obesity-related costs. This paper examines the causes of obesity and medical definition of obesity. This paper also provides a survey of the lifestyle factors that have contributed to the rise in American obesity, specifically, increased food supply, lack of healthy fast foods, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Research from several sources, including the CDC and a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), is used to support to thesis of the paper, which is that American culture contributes to the obesity epidemic. The paper concludes by providing several recommendations for combating obesity.
For the past several decades, The average weight of Americans has been increasing. In fact, a 2004 study by the CDC ranked obesity as the “number one health risk” facing Americans. Approximately 400.000 people die each year as a result of obesity-related health issues and these health problems cost the government nearly $125 billion annually (Ogden). Even more troubling are the increasing rates of childhood obesity, which affect more than 15% of the population under 18 (Obesity in America). The consequences of obesity are many and varied. Obesity leads to lower physical activity rates, depression, social anxiety, self-esteem issues and a significant diminishment in quality of life (Obesity in America).
One in four Americans are now considered obese and Surgeon General Richard Carmona has referred to obesity as a public health “crisis” (Oliver, 2006). The truth is that American culture has created an environment that promotes obesity and discourages a healthy lifestyle. For many years now, Americans have been told that they are too fat and only getting fatter. An estimated 25% of America’s children are overweight or obese, while an estimated 54% of American adults are obese, and another 22% are overweight (Hill and Peters, 1998). Yet the message doesn’t seem to be getting through, and according to certain projections, America’s teens are at risk of becoming the first generation in history to live a shorter lifespan than their parents (Oliver, 2006). Even First Lady, Michelle Obama, has taken up the cause with her new “Let’s Move” campaign, which is designed to get children up off the couch and exercising more (Let’s Move).
In order to truly comprehend the obesity-related health crisis, it is necessary to understand what obesity is and how it differs from simply being overweight. Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases, such as heart disease and other health problems, such as high blood pressure (CDC). Recently, medical professional have begun to quantify the differences between body weight by applying the Body Mass Index (BMI) system, which is calculated based on height and weight, and gender. A person is considered overweight if they have a BMI of 25 or greater and weigh at least 10% more than the recommended for their height and body type (Obesity in America).. Obesity is defined as a body weight of 30% or more than the recommended weight and a BMI of 30 or greater (Obesity in America). One drawback of BMI measures is that, although BMI does correlate with the amount of body fat, it does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people have a BMI number that would identify them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat (CDC). In addition to BMI, there are other methods of determining obesity, such as measuring waist circumference, hip to waist circumference ratios, skin fold thickness tests, and ultrasound technology (CDC).
There are a wide variety factors that contribute to the increasing rates of obesity in America, and several of them are unique to American culture. First, it’s no secret that American’s eating habits are highly unhealthy. Our luck in being a prosperous nation results in an over-abundance of food in both supermarkets and restaurants, particularly fast-food restaurants, and the portion sizes are often uncontrolled and unreasonable (Hill and Peters, 1998). The easiest choices for American families are often those laden with high-fat content, and menus often lack any offerings of palatable, low-fat choices. Americans are getting fatter because the foods they eat contain more and more fat. An Egg McMuffin sandwich from McDonald’s, for example, contains 25% of the recommended daily allowance (Self Magazine — You need an author for this). Studies show that a diet containing 35% fat or higher may contribute to obesity in sedentary animals, and this suggests very troubling implications for Americans consuming high fat diets (Hill and Peters, 1998). Unfortunately, many American adults and children are also living a more sedentary lifestyle due, in part, to advances in technology and transportation and the wide appeal of sedentary entertainment options, such as television, video games and computers.
The first step to obesity prevention is a healthier diet and increased exercise. The science is simple: Studies show that increased activity and improved aerobic fitness can significantly reduce body weight and prevent obesity, particularly in children (Epstein, Paluch, Gordy & Dorn, 2000). If the solutions were so simple, however, obesity wouldn’t be a major health crisis. The fact remains that cultural norms that have developed over the past fifty years make it difficult for many average people to control their weight. There are, however, several solutions to this problem. First, there must be education provided by companies in food industry. Companies and medical organizations should encourage controlled portion sizes and a reduction dietary fat content. Restaurants, parents, and schools must also make a concerted effort to provide low-fat foods high in nutritional values for young children. Educating children about healthy food choices and provide health food options will allow younger generations to form positive eating habits. Studies show that a combination of a healthy diet and regular physical activity most effectively treats and prevents obesity, regardless of family history. Physical activity should also be encouraged and schools should implement more rigorous physical education standards, and counter the appeal of sedentary activities by emphasizing the enjoyment of sports and aerobic exercise. In addition, and effort to shift the focus of social gatherings from food to more active pursuits, such as a family hike or game of soccer will help children develop a positive association with exercise. Offering public incentives such as lower insurance rates or more paid vacation time for healthy individuals may also improve parent and child health (Hills and Peters, 1998; Epstein et al., 2000).
Community-wide efforts need the cooperation of parents, schools, and other community institutions, such as churches or synagogues. Local governments and school boards, who are responsible for setting guidelines for physical education and recess times in public schools should also be involved in weight loss education. In fact, some state legislatures are considering bills that would set minimum standards for physical activity for elementary school children (Denver Post). All of these efforts will allow families to learn healthier habits and exact cultural change as new attitudes regarding diet and exercise are passed on to future generations.
Overall, obesity in America is a grave issues that, if left untreated, will have seriously effect the health of millions of Americans. Fighting obesity requires a tremendous amount of work by families, medical professionals, and by the food industry and education system. Researchers now know that genetic predispositions to obesity can be avoided by cultivating certain habits, such as “restrained eating” and regular exercise (Hill and Peters, 1998). While obesity is, in essence, a disease, it is one of the most easily preventable diseases for those who approach it proactively. This may require certain departures from the American lifestyle and the cultivation of long-term changes in diet and exercise.
Centers for Disease Control. “Overweight and Obesity.” Retrieved on February 19, 2001 from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/defining.html?
*Denver Post (2011). Colorado Physical Activity Bill Given Initial OK, The Denver Post Online. Retrieved on February 19, 2001 from http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_17384956?
Epstein, L.H., Paluch, R.A., Gordy, C.C., Dorn, J. (2000). “Decreasing Sedentary Behaviors in Treating Pediatric Obesity.” Arch Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 154, 220-226.
Hill, J.O., Peters, J.C. (1998). “Environmental Contributions to the Obesity.” Epidemic. Science Magazine, 280, 1371-1375.
*Let’s Move (2011). “Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.” Retrieved February 19, 2001 from www.letsmove.gov?
Neporent, L. “Lack of Sleep Linked to Childhood Obesity.” ABC News/Health. 24, Jan. 2011 Retrieved February 14, 2011 from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/lack-weekend-catch-sleep-risk-childhood-obesity/story?id=12743677?
*Obesity in America.(2011). Understanding Obesity. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2011 from http://www.obesityinamerica.org/understandingObesity/index.cfm?
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, McDowell MA, Tabak CJ, Flegal KM. 2006; “Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999 — 2004”,. Journal of the American Medical Association. 295:1549 — 55.
Oliver, J.E. (2006). “Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America’s Obesity Epidemic.” New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
*Self Magazine (2011) “Self Nutrition Data: Know What you Eat” Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/foods-from-mcdonalds/6262/2
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