«Obesity» Essay Sample



Obesity rates in the US have increased more than 200% in both children and adults since the 1970s. Recent estimates also indicate that the overall rates of obesity have also plateaued or even reduced among certain groups. Nevertheless, obesity continues to be a leading public health concern in the US. There are also some critical disparities existing with regard to demographics such as ethnicity, genders, geographical positioning and socioeconomic status (SES). Indeed, a relationship between poverty and obesity has increased that further exonerates the critical Socioeconomic Status of people (Heinberg & Thompson, 77).

Overview of Obesity in the US

It is estimated that more than 60% of the adults in the US are either overweight or obese. Generally, the rates of obesity and overweight are particularly higher for African-American and Hispanic women as compared to Caucasian women. Similarly, rates of obesity and overweight are also higher for Hispanic men as opposed to Caucasian and African-American men. Furthermore, research also indicates that the heaviest Americans have become even heavier during the past decade (Jordan, 24).

Racial-Ethnic Disparities

According to recent national data, 82% of Black women and 77.2% of Hispanic women are overweight compared to 63.2% of White women. Besides, more than half of all Black women are considered to be obese compared to about 37.1% of Black men and about 32.8% of the White women. Indeed, very critical levels of obesity continue to persist among women (8.3%) than their male counterparts, especially Black women, who have more than double the rates of extreme obesity. On the other hand, obesity rates are higher among Hispanic men than their Black counterparts, representing 78.6% and 69.2% respectively (Heinberg & Thompson, 54).

On the other hand, childhood obesity has also been a major challenge in the US. More than a quarter of 2-5 year olds and 33% of school-age children are considered obese or overweight in the US. Approximately 30% of low-income young children (preschoolers) are considered overweight or obese in the US. The rates of overweight have been perceived relatively high and continue to increase rapidly with time particularly among African-American and Hispanic children as compared to Caucasian children. The prevalence of obesity is also critically high among children living in the Southern region of the US such as Mississippi and Tennessee (Heinberg & Thompson, 57).

Racial-Ethic Disparities in Children with Obesity

Recent national figures indicate that 29.2% of White girls are either obese or overweight as compared to 36.1% of Black and 37.0% of Hispanic girls. Similarly, approximately 40% of Hispanic boys are either obese or overweight as compared to Black and White boys representing 34.4% and 27.8% respectively. The rates of obesity are also relatively high and alarming for 12-19-year-old Hispanic boys, 39.6 percent of which are either overweight or obese. Additionally, 42.5% of Black girls aged between 12 and 19 years are also either obese or overweight (Heinberg & Thompson, 59).

National data available on Native American children also indicates substantially high obesity rates compared to the national average and other racial-ethnic categories. For instance, the rates of obesity are considered twice high among Native American preschoolers compared to either Asian or White preschoolers. Besides, while the challenge tends to increase among adult immigrants as they become more acculturated to the American diet and other health behaviors, their susceptibility to obesity and overweight increases. There is also evidence that children of the least acculturated immigrants have the biggest risk of obesity than children of natives or settled immigrants, particularly among boys, Hispanics and Whites (Heinberg & Thompson, 64).

US Policy Response to Obesity Challenge

There is a wide range of clinical and behavioral responses undertaken by the US government towards resolving the challenge. The policymakers in the US have also implemented several policies and programs in response to obesity starting from the 1990s. Majority of such responses have sought to address behavioral, clinical or educational elements with considerably minimal attention to environmental factors. For instance, there were clinical considerations, checks and treatments of obese adults developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in 1998. The guidelines drew a wide range of scientific literature to establish principles pertaining to safety and effective loss of weight. Such guidelines are meant to be employed by healthcare practitioners working with obese patients. Besides, reports also focus on therapeutic interventions for weight loss among individuals including changes in eating, surgery and pharmacotherapy.

Another critical program implemented by the US government towards addressing obesity is the Weight-Control Information Network established in 1994 under the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Despite the fact that clinical guidelines of the NHLBI are meant for the medical audience, the whole mission of the Weight-Control Information Network is geared towards providing evidence-based information on obesity and other control measures to both the media and the general public. Other government policies were aimed at provision of clinical information to the public aiming at motivating people to spur their eating and exercise habits (Heinberg & Thompson, 61).

HealthierUS initiative in particular was establish by former US president in 2002 to encourage American citizens to partake in exercises on a daily basis besides healthy nutrition. One of the initiatives was the promotion of the ‘President’s Challenge’ of engaging in active forms of lifestyles. This initiative also revamped that the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in the expansion of national interests towards increasing awareness of both sports and ordinary exercises. Another major prgram is the ‘Team Nutrition’ program under the US Department of Agriculture; it is a comprehensive program based on the education sector where students practice making choices of food and further differentiating between unhealthy and healthy food items. This program and other projects, including the ‘Five A Day for Better Health’, which campaigns for fruits and vegetable diet, employ persuasive techniques, which are mainly developed for the purpose of commercial marketing to reinforce appeals aimed at healthy behaviors and further increase self-efficacy among the consumers with regard to making personal decisions regarding health (Schumacher & Queen, 91).

Nevertheless, recent obesity rates have led to a shift in approaches towards fighting obesity challenge. Clinical guidelines, social marketing campaigns and other educational programs have been perceived not to address a number of environmental causes of the epidemic. Some experts have also described such policies as counteractions. This implies that the policies were mainly geared towards reacting to the environmental causes of obesity. For instance, it is very important to educate children about the risks involved in consuming sugary drinks and to urge them to consume healthier beverages. Nevertheless, when children leave their classrooms or a doctor`s office, they face the world full of sugary drinks which are considerably cheap and relatively ubiquitous compared to milk and other beverages; moreover, marketing of such products targets the limbic and highly emotional section of children`s brain. The main intention of the policy is to ensure ease of making healthy choices (Jordan, 43-44).

Some of the recent polices show that there has been a shift towards the default approach used in curbing obesity. For instance, federal legislation in 2009 allocated $183 million for Safe Routes to School. This project promotes the involvement of active transport to schools through the construction of bike lanes, sidewalks and trails. These developments encouraged school-going children to be either walking to school or riding bikes, which is a basic rule of promoting physical activities. Similarly, the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010 also entails efforts aimed at improving food environment in schools in order to increase opportunities to partake in physical activities and further reinforce both affordability and accessibility of healthy food products (Schumacher & Queen, 45).

Another initiative is the Healthy Food Financing Initiative launched in 2010 with an aim to increase access to healthy foods by attracting supermarkets to regions currently lacking them. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also provided the Department of Agriculture of US with the power and privilege to regulate the supply and quality of food products sold to children in schools. This also saw the establishment of federal menu-labeling laws in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, evaluation of the effectiveness of such interventions has always been very challenging. For instance, the methods of measuring environmental changes and subsequently connecting them to individual behavior and population conduct are in the early stages of development. Besides, critical evidence also suggests that policy towards improving safe routes to schools is taken to increase the use of bicycle or walking. However, such changes have not been associated with changes in body weight. Besides, evaluations of menu labeling measures have had mixed results despite the fact that it is quite clear that menu labeling has a concrete impact on loss of calories; there is evidence that consumers can consume less later in the day (Murphy, 89).

These measures represent important shifts in the US policy approach to curbing obesity. However, majority of the critically powerful defaults in the food environment such as marketing of unhealthy food products to youth as well as the prominent supply of sugary products have not yet changed. A basic reality must however be admitted and addressed explicitly. Despite the promotion of healthy foods through food access programs is imperative, there has been growing evidence that reducing the consumption of unhealthy products could be at least as essential. Besides, the primary determinants of weight gain were consumption of unhealthy products including potato chips, sugary drinks and French fries among others (Schumacher & Queen, 76-77).

On the other hand, according to another research, consumption of either fruits or vegetables was connected to less weight gain. However, the impact was considerably small compared with that of unhealthy foods. Equally, close proximity to supermarkets which are credited with enhancing supply of healthier food products has been perceived to have relatively small effect on diet than proximity to unhealthy foods. However, it has not been clear that merely promoting access and consumption of healthy food, without discouraging consumption of unhealthy food, will address obesity. In the context of the US, there are two potentially powerful obesity prevention policies (Schumacher & Queen, 78).

Sugary Drinks Taxation

Fiscal interventions such as taxes can be an essential tool in improving the economic landscape of the food environment. Beverages with added sugar have been prime subjects of heavy taxations. Indeed, they comprise of about 10% caloric intake nationwide besides having no additional nutritional value. The consumption of such beverages is connected with high level of weight gain among other unhealthy circumstances such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus. There has also been the introduction of the penny-per-ounce taxes on sugary drinks which would effectively raise the price of sugary products by approximately 20%. Several studies have also been conducted on the effect of such taxation predicting reduction of consumption of the sugary beverages by approximately 14-20% (Jordan, 89).

The effect on body weight will however depend on the degree to which people substitute other high calorie beverages like juice and whole milk. The level of substitution has been identified with mixed degrees. For instance, aa recent study indicates that adolescents and children have been substituting both whole milk and juice to offset caloric reduction from formerly consumed sugary beverages. However, contrary opinion has been posed by another study which has identified less increase in the use of other categories. Nevertheless, reduction in consumption of sugary drinks has metabolic advantages of its own right while the policy is intended to yield positive public effect even with an increase in substitute calories of other categories (Jordan, 90).

Taxes on sugary drinks have also had increased support nationwide. Such a measure has been considered as mechanism at the federal level to finance reforms in the healthcare sector. Consequently, such mechanisms were proposed in 11 states. However, the two cases met high resistance from the beverage industry via the American Beverage Association. This industry usually spends approximately 1 million dollars on lobbying Congress each year. However, lobbying increased to about 19 million dollars during a period when beverage taxes were considered at the federal level. Since then, the Association has spent heavily in states considering the sugary drink taxes, spending 14 million dollars in Washington. Similarly, there have also been anti-tax campaigns waged by front groups funded by the Beverage Industry such as ‘Americans Against Food Taxes’ that position themselves as consumer organizations (Jordan, 66).

Economic Variability as a Source of Increased Vulnerability to Obesity

Basically, the low-income groups are considered to be highly susceptible to obesity. As a result of additional risk factors related to poverty, food insecure and low-income groups are more vulnerable to obesity. In particular, obesity among low income earners and food insecure groups occurs in part because they are subject to the same influences as any other Americans such as sedentary lifestyle. Similarly, such groups also face unique challenges in adopting healthy-living habits. Besides, limited resources coupled with lack of affordable and healthy foods are also a major challenge in combating obesity in the US. For instance, low-income neighborhoods have been increasingly reported to lack full-service grocery stores where people can purchase several categories of vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products. This situation leaves the population little alternative regarding consumption of healthy products as they are unavailable (Murphy, 31).

On the other hand, when such healthy foods are available, they are significantly expensive while other products, containing added sugars and fats, are relatively cheap and readily accessible to the low-income groups. In other cases, the available healthy foods, particularly fresh products, are of poor quality in lower income neighborhoods. Such mechanisms reduce appeals for consumption of such products. Furthermore, low-income communities also have a higher availability of fast-food restaurants especially around schools. The restaurants serve nutrition-poor foods at considerably low prices. These foods are however associated with high calories and are low in nutrients. These aspects lead to prevalence of obesity (Murphy, 32).

Besides, low-income neighborhoods have fewer physical activity resources, including fewer green spaces, parks and recreational facilities. This situation makes it critically hard for the population to undertake active lifestyles. Research also indicates that limited access to facilities provides a significantly huge risk for obesity. Even if such facilities are available, they are often unattractive for physical activities since poor neighborhoods often have less natural features. Besides, high prevalence of crimes, unsafe activity equipments and traffic comprises are common barriers to the engagement in physical activities among low-income groups. Children of low-income groups are also unlikely to take part in organized sports. This aspect is also reported to increase the risk for obesity. Furthermore, students in low-income schools spend less time being active during physical education classes and are more likely to lack recess contributing to high obesity rates (Critser, 34-36).

Besides, low-income groups may be faced with high levels of distress as a result of both emotional and financial pressures due to food insecurity, low wages and poor access to standardized healthcare. Research has also linked high stress incidence to obesity prevalence among both youth and adults including stress from job-related challenges. Indeed, stress may lead to high weight gains as a result of stress-accelerated hormonal and metabolic challenges and other unhealthy eating habits may perpetuate obesity prevalence at large. Low-income groups are also highly exposed to obesity promoting products. Consequently, such marketing and advertising promotions encourage the overall consumption of unhealthy food products besides discouraging physical activities that would alleviate the problem (Murphy, 45).

The Concepts to Be Adopted in Our Country

Finally, while obesity has been a major challenge to both individual consumers and the government due to high health expenditure on unhealthy eating related ailments, the optimal rule of addressing obesity challenge is enhancement of healthy eating habits. In particular, one of the mechanisms that could effectively work is high taxation of sugary beverages and other food items causing obesity. As a result, relatively high taxation of sugary beverages would create an indirect effect on the consumption of such products. This would also reduce the actions of union related impacts with regard to increased cost of the products which has an indirect impact on reducing the consumption of sugary products.

Besides, the country may also adopt school-based campaigns aimed at fighting obesity through adapting healthy eating habits. This will also be improved through adoption of minimum wage across all sectors of the economy which would see increase in per capita incomes; an aspect that would minimize economic-related stress due to low incomes and therefore solve obesity prevalence through minimized stress which has been perceived as a cause of obesity disorder.

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