The quality of the food brought into the home can increase caloric intake. For example, calorie-dense foods such as regular milk, sugar sweetened beverages, high-fat foods, and fast foods are potential sources of excess caloric intake. Family food preparation practices such as the use of cream, butter, or high-fat cheeses in recipes can be another source of excess caloric intake. An individual's physical activity is also an important factor in the development of obesity (Malnor, 2006).
Impact of Obesity on Society
Evidence of the considerable costs of obesity to individuals and society is rich. At the individual level, obesity is associated with health care costs that average about 30% above those for normal weight individuals. Overall, obesity-related direct and indirect economic costs exceed $100 billion annually, and the number is expected to grow. "In relative terms, obesity accounts for six percent to 10% of U.S. health care spending, compared with two percent to 3.5% in other Western countries" (Economic impact of obesity, 2008, para. 3). The burden of obesity-related medical costs falls disproportionately on public health care in the U.S., draining resources from public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Obesity accounted for 27
percent of the growth in real U.S. health care spending between 1987 and 2001. Despite these sobering statistics, the full effects of obesity trends since the 1980s are not yet fully apparent because health problems caused by weight gain take time to appear (Economic impact of obesity, 2008).
Given the significant financial burden imposed by obesity, employers have a stake in reducing obesity in the workforce. Obese workers miss more days of work and cost employers more in medical and disability claims as well as workers compensation claims. "As a result, an average firm with 1,000 employees faces $285,000 per year in extra costs associated with obesity" (Economic impact of obesity, 2008, para. 4)
"Behavior governing weight depends not just on health considerations but also on the desire to appear normal and attractive," say authors Mary Burke and Frank Heiland (Blackwell Publishing, 2007, para. 3). As a result, any change that causes average weight to increase, such as a decline in food prices, will lead to additional weight increases because the weight level considered "normal" will rise (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
This is an example of a "social multiplier" effect. The authors find that their integrated model, describing the effects of economic and social change on a physiologically heterogeneous population, does a better job of explaining changes in the weight distribution over the past thirty years than do models based on economic change alone (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
People underestimate the economic effect obesity has on our society. The Center for Disease Control has concluded that illnesses associated with obesity cost the United States $93 billion a year in health care costs. Eric Finkelstein, a health economist at the nonprofit RTI Institute, wrote, "about half of the total cost of obesity-related health care is paid by the government through its Medicare program. For every American citizen, the out-of-pocket tax cost is an average $180" (Verbin, 2007). This dwarfs the $13 billion businesses lose each year from obesity-related medical fees, absenteeism, and decreased productivity.
"Obesity is the No. 1 health crisis in the United States, and the nation could be at risk without immediate action," former President Clinton said at CNN's first Fit Nation Summit. "We need to do something about it for our children, and for our country, because something like this could easily collapse our nation if we don't act now," Clinton said (Willingham, 2008, para. 1).
Clinton and a panel of experts addressed such proposed solutions as healthy school lunches, elimination of trans fats, the need for healthier food in urban communities and the importance of supporting community-based efforts to fight obesity. Clinton, who's been tackling the obesity issue over the past few years with his Alliance for a Healthier Generation, stressed the need to help educate people about the importance of a healthy diet and exercising together (Willingham, 2008).
"To help fight the battle against obesity, the food industry must team up with the government, academia, and the medical community to help inform consumers, strengthen nutrition education, and develop healthier product choices," says the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005, p. 82). ConAgra aims to work in concert with these groups to continue providing consumers with a range of healthy food options. Giving consumers the best nutrition information and the best nutritional food options may empower them to make individualized lifestyle changes that will help overcome energy imbalance and, in the long-term, may help curb the struggle with obesity (Blackburn & Walker, 2005). It will not be simple, nor will it be easy.
Blackburn, G., & Walker, W. (2005). Science-based solutions to obesity: what are the roles of academia, government, industry, and health care? American journal of clinical nutrition, 259-261.
Blackwell Publishing. (2007, August 2). Rise of obesity exacerbated by 'social multiplier' effects. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from Science daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070801112150.htm
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Malnor, K. (2006). Fat teen trouble: A sociological perspective of obesity in adolescents. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from MacAlester college: education department: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=soci_honors
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OECD. (2008). OECD health data 2008: How does the United States compare? Retrieved April 15, 2009, from OECD.org: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/46/2/38980580.pdf
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Simon, B. (2002, May 24). Society's conflicting signals fuel…