Americas Growing Weight Obesity Problem
The American people need a multi-pronged approach involving government action, the medical community, and addressing environmental factors in order to successfully attack obesity and diminish its threat on our nation’s health. Recent statistics show that nearly sixty million people in the U. S. are obese with a BMI of over thirty. The number of obese people has doubled in the last twenty years (Perry 2). Even though the word epidemic is generally associated with infectious diseases, the term epidemic is being attributed to the rapid spread of obesity in our population (Robinson 1).
Most everyone knows the reason for obesity is that people consume too many calories and exercise too little. “For what is probably the first time in history, millions of people’s lives are in danger, not because they don’t have enough to eat, but because they’re eating too much” (Perry 1). The U. S. government has complied and studied the country’s obesity statistics and is beginning its course of action to eliminate childhood obesity, as well as adult obesity. They have suggested or instituted a growing number of interventions and regulations to this effect, as well as some federal laws.
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One of these proposals is the restriction of sugary soda sales at public schools. There have been numerous studies showing how sugary sodas influence weight gain. The government has acknowledged this fact by proposing special taxes on sugary sodas, as well as, suggesting the idea of not allowing sugary soda sales to food stamp recipients. (“Soda Tax”) The Federal government has also decreed that the food packaging in grocery stores have ingredient labeling so that the consumer will know the calorie content as well as the protein, carbohydrates, fats, sodium and other vitamins and nutrients included in the product for sale.
Now there are regulations requiring restaurants to post calorie content of the items on their menu, or at least have the calorie content available if asked for. In most large restaurant chains the calorie content is available online. There have been bans on toys that were given to children who were ordering high calorie meals at fast food restaurants. In some states schools are required to send home health report cards with the regular report cards. Perhaps most frightening, we have now taken the ‘war’ to our children, sending some of them home from school with notes saying that they are too fat and taking others away from their parents for the same reason” (Robinson 2). The government has never been afraid to address many of the dangers in our society to protect our citizens from harm. Some examples of these laws or regulations are: seat belts, illegal drugs, non-smoking areas, and vaccinations for school children (Robinson 4). ” But requiring certain eating and physical activity behaviors to prevent obesity or chronic diseases is highly unlikely to happen” (Swinburn 4).
It then stands to reason that, “For some policy interventions, such as the universal measurement of body mass index (BMI) in children and sending a ‘BMI report card’ back to parents, there may be public opposition to contend with as well” (Swinburn 4). Not withstanding public opposition to certain government policies, it is the role of government to protect its citizens from harm and to encourage the food industry, with laws and regulations if necessary, to comply by providing healthier products to increase the health of the population (Swinburn 1).
Our system of government works best when there is both a private sector and a public sector balancing each other for the public’s good. The medical community is also taking aim at obesity. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C. D. C. ) has declared that, “poor diet combined with physical inactivity may soon overtake tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States” (Perry 3). Obesity leads to diabetes type II, hypertension, certain cancers, and heart disease, to name just a few (Perry 5).
Pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers are developing obesity drugs such as Orlistat, which blocks the absorption of fat in the stomach, and Sibutramine, which makes the patients feel full and thereby eat less. Both drugs work better than diet and exercise alone. Orlistat has been proven to prevent new cases of diabetes II by up to 37% (Lean 44). Doctors have used diet and exercise for years in their prescription for weight loss and this seems to still be their first line of attack, but recently research scientists have been working on a “Human Obesity Gene Map” (Perry 5).
This gene map can diagnosis whether a patient is apt to be obese by the presence of, or lack of, certain hormones these genes produce. Leptin is one of these hormones and its presence in the body suppresses the appetite. The researchers have found that by injecting fat mice that lack this hormone; the fat mice lost weight (Perry 5). It is hoped that this treatment will prove safe for humans. One of the most radical approaches to correct obesity is gastricbypass, a surgery where all but a small part of the stomach is removed along with some of the small ntestine. Even though the weight loss from this surgery is dramatic, it can be life threatening with nearly 2% of over 3,000 patients dying within 30 days of the surgery in one study (Perry 8). Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center discovered and modified an anticancer drug to eliminate fat cells in mice. This would be the first anti-obesity drug. “Fat mice treated with the drug for a month returned to normal weight and experienced few side effects” (Perry 8).
It is remarkable all that the medical community is contributing to the war on obesity, but there is still a long road of trial and error before their discoveries and innovative medical procedures are approved for humans. As important as the government and medical community are to the war on obesity, the environment in which we live must be given equal, if not more, emphasis. Parents, families, schools, the work place, restaurants, and home are all ultimately the prime battle ground in the fight against obesity. In Sandra Hassink’s review of Fed up!
Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity by Susan Okie, a family doctor and journalist, Okie writes about the “toxic environment” that families are exposed to (A 318). She cites “sodas, juice, portions, fast food, television, school lunches, sedentary lifestyles” and the “struggles with body image, school snacks, the pull to inactivity and families’ efforts to change lifestyle and behavior” (Hassink A 318). She says, “–obesity is a family problem” (Hassink A 318). Marie Winn, in her essay, “Television: The Plug-In Drug” says, “Television emerges as the important influence in children’s lives today” (Winn 437).
Susan Okie agrees and cites “decreased activity and increased snacking occurs when children and adolescents spend too much time in-front of the screen” (Hassink A 318). Both women see the value in physical activity, whether is it play or sports. They both strongly encourage the parents to make physical activity fun, for themselves as well as their children. School is another area that is critically reviewed by Okie from—- “school meals, snacks, soda machines” to the role parents need to play to make more positive changes for their children’s choices of healthier foods and more physical activities (Hassink A 318).
Obesity will not be an easy war to win. People will have to be educated to the health dangers that obesity causes and they will have to demand that the food industry change and deliver healthier choices. People will have to send their message to their representatives in Congress to enlist the help of the government to pass laws and regulations that protect their children and themselves. Parents and families must become advocates for a healthier environment. Only they can truly change the war on obesity in their favor. Governments and medicine are important partners, but the real warriors are the people themselves.