In recent times, there has been a dramatic increase in the rates of obesity and overweight in the US. This challenge is recognized globally, but interventions to prevent it require a complex approach, paying attention to behavior, genetics, as well as social and financial issues. The situation is complicated by the fact that many people with excessive weight do not recognize their state as a problematic one since they believe that they are healthy. Although some people normalize obesity and believe that it does not affect health, it is a serious and costly disease that not only reduces a person’s quality of life but also impacts the entire society.
Obesity in the US: Causes, Problems, and Solutions
Such factors as behavior, genetics, community environment, as well as drugs and diseases impact the occurrence of obesity. Behavioral factors include eating habits, lifestyles, and physical activity, which should be balanced. Excessive calories are often taken by Americans, and a lack of regular physical activity leads to gaining weight. In turn, the patterns of adequate physical activity and healthy eating are associated with the prevention and treatment of obesity and other chronic diseases. Genetics as a cause of obesity influences the way a human body reacts to high-calorie food and beverage intake. For example, some people may feel hunger more often than others, or some genes may affect metabolism rates.
As for family history, it can also be a factor that, in combination with other issues, defines one’s predisposition to weight gain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by Hispanic adults (44.8%), and non-Hispanic White adults (42.2%)” (“Adult Obesity Facts”). Therefore, healthcare practitioners routinely collect information about patients’ family history. Environmental factors include communities people live in, such as the availability of sidewalks, parks, gyms, healthy food stores and restaurants, and so on. As an example, a lack of safe bike trails makes it impossible to use a bicycle for physical activity. If local stores and cafes cannot offer healthy and affordable food, people are more likely to choose fast food. In addition, some drugs (antidepressants or steroids) and diseases (polycystic ovary syndrome or Cushing’s disease) may cause excessive weight gain.
The main problem of obesity is its negative impact on a person’s health, including physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial issues. Among the consequences of obesity, there are hypertension, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, mental illnesses, cancer, osteoarthritis, and many others (Jia and Liu 463). Health risks related to the given disease also involve breathing problems and high cholesterol. Obesity affects not only individuals but also the whole society. Healthcare providers make significant efforts to manage and treat this disease, while its costs are high. The CDC reports that medical costs for people who had obesity were $1,429 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight” (“Adult Obesity Facts”). Moreover, obesity is harmful emotionally and socially as it causes stigma and depression. Brewis et al. discuss weight-related stigma, when people think about those with excessive weight as having the features of “laziness and lack of self-control” (2). Blaming and shaming is often practiced by colleagues at workplaces, classmates at schools, and even healthcare practitioners in hospital settings.
Obesity is considered as normal by people, who believe that excessive weight cannot damage their health. The recent article by Mata and Hertwig shows that depressed people are less likely to hold responsibility for their excessive weight (278). Accordingly, one may suggest that those with psychological issues are at a higher risk of developing obesity. It is also worth mentioning that the participants of the study by Mata and Hertwig located obesity closer to alcohol and tobacco dependence compared to mental disorders (280). Others stated that it is also the responsibility of the government and policymakers to create conditions that would motivate people to eat healthy foods and practice physical activity. Some Americans strongly believe that they can be healthy in any size since they have no current health problems. They are convinced that it is not necessary to limit personal food intake and properly choose foods to just hypothetically become healthier. However, studies and practice prove that obesity is a serious illness.
Obesity normalization is practiced by many people with high and extremely high body mass index. Robinson reviews the underestimation of a weight status and states that the prevalence of overweight and obese people changes people’s perception of norms (1201). According to the proposed visual normalization theory, there is the underestimation of a weight status that occurs due to the increasing average body mass index of the population. Research also shows that this tendency is characteristic of different social and demographic groups, which means that the nation as a whole fails to identify overweight and obesity (Robinson 1201). However, some social groups, such as African-Americans, are more likely to misinterpret their weight. It is also important to note that many parents fail to correctly identify their children’s weight, which leads to further weight gain since proper interventions are not implemented. Observing body positive advertisements of popular clothing, cosmetics, and electronics companies, people tend to think that it is normal to be overweight or obese. In fact, obesity is a disease that should not be disregarded or praised, while its stigmatization is unacceptable. Since obese and overweight people are often stigmatized, it may mean for them to experience psychological tension if they recognize and accept their disease.
A special sustainability framework should be used to prevent the obesity epidemic. As stated by Whelan et al., there is a need to combine human and financial resources at all levels of prevention (8). Namely, the above authors suggest that community engagement is one of the key factors, which implies making sure that adequate information is available to its members. Communities should be equipped with healthy food and physical activity opportunities. Partnerships between local organizations and strong leadership with clear governance are important to make prevention sustainable. Ongoing adaptation and evaluation of interventions are critical to making “evidence informed interventions to ensure contextual relevance to the community” (Whelan et al. 8). For example, beginning with the education of the population, leaders should continue with extending the options to adopt healthy lifestyles. At the same time, feedback from communities should be collected to match financial resources and their needs. Another way to resolve the problem of obesity is educating children at schools by explaining to them both causes and consequences of having excessive weight.
Considering that children and adolescents are the future of the US, it is significant to support their health. Weihrauch-Blüher et al. discuss behavior-oriented prevention programs that are implemented at schools to stop the obesity epidemic among this age group (265). The authors note that “the best effects could be shown in children aged 6–12 years”, who are educated on the importance of preventative measures (Weihrauch-Blüher et al. 266). For example, it should be clearly explained to children that sweetened beverages refer to a higher risk of obesity. The transfer of knowledge to children can be provided through teachers and parents as they are more likely to adopt their recommendations. As for adolescents, they should receive this knowledge directly due to their growing autonomy. In addition, school-based programs should be created to motivate children and adolescents to avoid or reduce excessive weight, if necessary. School interventions need to be combined with those implemented in communities to achieve better results. The current obesogenic environment should become more stimulating to seek healthy lifestyles.
To conclude, obesity is a serious problem that involves behavioral, environmental, and genetic causes, which should be considered in combination. This disease makes a harmful impact on the well-being of the entire society, leading to poor health, weight-related stigma, mental and emotional issues, and financial challenges. Some overweight and obese people normalize their condition, believing that having excessive weight can be healthy, which is associated with stigma and a failure to identify a personal weight status. However, it is critical to prevent, treat, and manage obesity in terms of the sustainability framework, including community engagement, population education, strong leadership, and constant adaptation and evaluation of strategies. By encouraging community engagement, it would be possible to make people healthier, which is advantageous for individuals and society as a whole.
“Adult Obesity Facts.” CDC, 2021, Web.
Brewis, Alexandra, et al. “Obesity Stigma as a Globalizing Health Challenge.” Globalization and Health, vol. 14, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-6.
Jia, Weiping, and Feng Liu. “Obesity: Causes, Consequences, Treatments, and Challenges.” Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, vol. 13, no.7, 2021, pp. 463-465.
Mata, Jutta, and Ralph Hertwig. “Public Beliefs About Obesity Relative to Other Major Health Risks: Representative Cross-Sectional Surveys in the USA, the UK, and Germany.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 52, no. 4, 2018, pp. 273-286.
Robinson, Eric. “Overweight but Unseen: A Review of the Underestimation of Weight Status and a Visual Normalization Theory.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 18, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1200-1209.
Weihrauch-Blüher, Susann, et al. “Current Guidelines for Obesity Prevention in Childhood and Adolescence.” Obesity Facts, vol. 11, no. 3, 2018, pp. 263-276.
Whelan, Jillian, et al. “Sustaining Obesity Prevention in Communities: A Systematic Narrative Synthesis Review.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 19, no. 6, 2018, pp. 839-851.