The significance of obesity in American society is hardly unforeseen; evidence of its ugly head is reared throughout all facets of America, including diverse geographic and demographic arenas. One American city lends credence to the glaring problem of obesity with the following statistics presented in a Department of Health report from 2005. The facts as presented in the report show that, 1) the percentage of adults in the state of New York who are overweight or obese increases from 42% in 1997 to 57% in 2002, 2) the percentage of obese adults increased more than one hundred percent from 10% to 21%, 3) obesity among children and adolescents has tripled during the past three decades, 4) 24% of children in grades K-5 are obese, and 5) 29.5% of high school students in New York City are obese or overweight (NY Dept of Health 2005). Additionally, the report showed that illnesses related to obesity costs the State of New York more than $6 billion, and more importantly costs the United States over $117 billion per year.
The question remains as to what can be done to address this particular issue. A study with a focus on the obesity problem in New York states that "we know that being overweight or obese contributes to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, asthma, and depression" (Ulrich, 2007, p. 10). The Ulrich study reiterated the fact that the annual health costs associated with adult obesity in New York exceed $6 billion and that there were nearly 58% of the population in New York that are classified as overweight or obese.
According to New York's Department of Health poor diet and physical inactivity are the second leading causes of preventable death in the United States and are contributing factors to the obesity and overweight issues. In New York, the evidence shows a 15% jump in the number of overweight adults within the last five years and the obese classification (in New York) has risen during that same period of time by nearly 100%. Obesity can lead to many additional health problems (and their associated costs) that addressing this issue will not only assist those individuals who find themselves facing this situation, but will also be beneficial to society overall; and this is true not just of adults who suffer from obesity, but the children and young adults who are following the same trends.
Almost 30% of high school students from New York City are obese or overweight, and almost 25% of elementary-aged students from K-5 are in the same category. These figures are disseminated by the New York Department of Health and what is really disturbing about these figures is the fact that it is costing America and the state of New York billions of dollars per year to cope with obesity-related illnesses. As stated above, New York State alone spends over $6 billion on this problem. Much of the problem could be alleviated if the citizens were taught what foods to eat and what foods not to eat. Additionally the citizens could also be given direction in how to integrate physical activities into their daily schedules and how being healthy oftentimes will lead to a secure and happier lifestyle. Other community benefits to a healthier lifestyle is the fact that individuals who are healthy, or living a healthy lifestyle, are much less likely to require medical attention, develop long-term diseases, or require expensive surgeries or hospitalizations.
Healthy individuals are also much less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. Healthy individuals have also been shown to live longer and more productive lives. Obesity can change those healthy lifestyles and the resulting consequences can oftentimes be devastating. Making changes to ensure that obesity does not affect the individual, or to overcome the affects of obesity are essential in returning or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Some of the easiest changes to implement include improving the individual's dies and activity, or exercise, level.
An example of how changes in diet and exercise levels can be seen among women who are pregnant is found by determining the level of hypertension. Hypertensive women often suffer from the affects of high blood pressure especially if they are pregnant. A lower caloric diet complemented by a regular and consistent exercise regime lowers blood pressure and can have other positive effects as well. A recent study determined that obesity during pregnancy can affect the male offspring's fertility. The study found that "obesity is a strong predictor of fecundity (the ability to easily have lots of children) and could have a programming effect on semen quality" (Ramlau-Hansen, Thulstrup, Bonde, Olsen, 2007, p. 568). The benefit to pregnant women (of an exercise and weight loss program) does not mean that the women affected would have more children, but at least they would have the choice to do so if they please.
Another group that could benefit from healthcare education concerning obesity are the overweight children who are at risk of becoming obese, or those children who are a residents of the obese category.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that the children in the United States have a weight problem, and that the long-term effects of that problem could "significantly shorten their lives and make them the first generation in American history to die at younger ages than their parents" (Cooper, 2011, p. 75)
Another recent article, "Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Fat Mass in a Large Cohort of Children" (Ness, Leary, Mattocks, Blair, Reilly, 2007) presents material that defines the need for concern when it comes to the health of individuals, both children and adults. These experts acknowledged the fact that lack of physical activity in the lives of obese children could be a major factor in the higher likelihood of disease contraction, poor health and more health problems.
Many previous studies have had difficulty in providing specific information, exercises and nutritional habits that could help the obese in addressing their weight issues, and defining obesity itself is a rather difficult task as well, since, "as a person of above-average height may be 'carrying' a lot of fat or a lot of muscle." (Ness et al. 2007-page 484)
Other studies have shown that there are certain types of physical activities that are more likely to be associated with a lean body mass, and perhaps teaching individuals these activities would help them in maintaining a more comprehensive health program or regimen. Implementing daily activities that would more likely assist these citizens in maintaining a healthful and vigorous body weight would quite possibly lead to a less stressful and active lifestyle. Individuals who maintain a less stressful and active lifestyle are much more likely to be productive members of society. Additionally, many experts believe that citizens who maintain healthier lifestyles cost society much less in the long run.
An additional area of concern regarding obesity, is the individual who is obese and who also chooses to smoke. Cigarette smoking contributes in a damaging manner to the person's overall health and can also be a restraint in the person's ability to exercise.
Cigarette smoking also has been shown to cause hypertension and accelerated heart rates. These two factors contribute to the heart working harder than it should, especially in the case of many obese individuals who are already experiencing a difficult time with the hearts.
Studies have shown that cigarette smoke contains carbon dioxide (MedicineNet.com, 2007) and when inhaled into the body can lead to less oxygen in the blood. These factors cause the heart to work even harder with a less than normal supply of oxygen, an additional factor for obese individuals.
Another area of concern is the obese person who is also suffering from hypertension. Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, can be a silent killer. Oftentimes, hypertension can cause such health impairments such as blood vessels bursting in the retina of the eye, heart muscles that are thickening, brain damage, kidney and liver failures, and many more. An early study showed that many individuals suffering from hypertension are totally unaware of their condition, never knowing until it was too late (Burt, Cutler, Higgins, Horan, Labarthe, Whelton, Brown, Rocella, 1995). The same study determined that many people who are diagnosed are left either to inadequate treatment or receive no treatment at all. One method to ensure treatment is by monitoring the individual's blood pressure on a constant and consistent basis.
If it is determined that the individual has hypertension it can then be treated through diet and exercise, as well as restricting salt and administering prescribed medicines. The problem is that obesity is a growing problem and that solutions to the problem are seemingly bogged down due to cost of implementation or other factors. The author suggests that an educational program be developed that can teach those most at risk concerning the long and short-term effects resulting from obesity, and the manners and methods used to counteract its increasing influence on both old…