The problem of obesity is important because it affects roughly a third of all adults in the United States (Flegal, 2010, p. 235). Between 30% and 35% of American men and women are believed to be obese in according to the latest study by Flegel, Caroll, et al. (2010). This alarming news indicates that obesity is truly a problem of epidemic proportions. Because obesity does not merely affect one's appearance, it is necessary to understand the problem in all its manifestations. There are a number of health concerns that surround obesity. For example, it is believed to increase one's chances of developing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Excess weight can also be a factor in the decline of one's mobility. From changing one's diet to changing one's lifestyle, there are many ways to fight obesity -- yet, obesity rates continue to rise in the United States (Flegal, 2010, p. 235). It is imperative that some measures be taken to curb these alarming rates. This paper will analyze the problem of obesity and provide a description of the way obesity impacts one's health. It will examine the challenges, barriers and obstacles one faces in combating obesity; expert opinions; potential interventions; stakeholders' interests; and policy recommendations.
Obesity is best defined as the maintaining of an excessive degree of body fat. This excessive degree is measured according to body mass index (BMI), calculated using one's weight and height. A measurement at or above a BMI of 30.0 is considered obesity.
Individuals who suffer from obesity face a number of serious threats both to their own health and to their social life. Not only are chronic diseases and even mortality common consequences of obesity but also social stigma surrounds individuals who are obese. "Weight discrimination" has nearly doubled in the past decade and according to researchers plays a part in biased decision making just as much racial discrimination (Puhl, Heuer, 2012, p. 941). Obesity affects one's chances of being accepted, for example, into a graduate studies program at a major university just as much as it affects one's chances of developing diabetes (Burmeister, 2013, p. 918).
Yet, aside from discrimination and the well-documented links between obesity and diabetes, heart failure, and high blood pressure, researchers are also beginning to see a link between obesity and sleep apnea (Chen, Beydoun, Wang, 2008, p. 265). More and more studies are being performed that are establishing relationships between excessive body fat and declines in the overall ability of the body to perform normal, routine functions -- like breathing. Even mothers who gain excessive weight during pregnancy are at risk of becoming obese and developing hypertension and diabetes. The health of children and adults in the U.S. is significantly affected by the problem of obesity.
Some challenges and barriers in addressing the issue of obesity may be found in the fact that obesity is a highly stigmatized disease. It affects one's appearance, and like race, produces its own stereotypes in culture. Individuals who are obese are often perceived to be lazy, ignorant and unsympathetic. However, none of these perceptions can be accurately applied in any normative way to all obese individuals. The biggest hurdle to addressing the issue of obesity, therefore, is the issue of perception. Obesity needs to be seen more as the disease that it is and less as the "unfortunate" result of "letting oneself go."
Another barrier to treating obesity is the national perception of dietary lifestyles. While more and more attention is being given to organic food items and "natural" or herbal supplements, many Americans still consume large quantities of fast food and keep high calorie, high carbohydrate food items in their diets. National awareness about the causes of obesity, such as inactivity, lack of sleep, and poor diet is something that needs to grow.
However, there are other factors that lead to obesity which do not result from lifestyle decisions, per se. One of these is weight gain due to medication. Some medications, such as anti-depressants, can lead to major weight gain because of the affects they have on the mood, on the body's hormones, and on the individual's overall ability to lead an active lifestyle.
One's approach to obesity needs to balance a number of elements: first, one must not led weight discrimination affect one's perception of obesity as a disease; second, one must understand the relationship between a healthy, active lifestyle and diet and a healthy, normal BMI; third, one must realize that while some medications can help individuals in certain areas, they can harm individuals in other areas. Drugs are not a "cure all" but rather a way to treat symptoms. There is a great danger in American culture, which relies heavily upon pharmaceutical "cures" for its ailments. A big roadblock to treating obesity is the sheer fact that the best way to treat it is one that incorporates a balanced diet with an active lifestyle. In today's corporate world, it is difficult to find that balance and to maintain it. Without that balance, the disease of obesity is one that can slowly develop overtime -- until "suddenly" one's BMI has reached the tipping point.
George Bray (2013) asserts that drugs are a powerful way to treat individuals who suffer from obesity: "The goal of medicating for obesity is to help more patients achieve more weight loss" (p. 893). However, not all researchers agree that drug treatment is the best way to approach obesity. Drugs can often have side effects that add to a person's stress, which can in turn lead to greater weight gain if inactivity or depression sets in. Drugs have the benefit of treating the symptom, but understanding the cause of obesity and treating it often depends upon the patient more than it does the doctor.
To that end, researchers like Tamara Dubowitz (2013) devised a study in which they attempted to see the relationship between obesogenic neighborhoods and "land use zoning and parks renovations" (p. 419). What Dubowitz found was that there was not significant amount of data to show that the mere existence of parks and places within a community where one could lead an active lifestyle had any impact on reducing weight gain. Dubowitz argues that such zones may facilitate in the treatment of obesity by inspiring individuals who suffer from the disease to take part in a walks, hikes, runs, etc. But at bottom, outdoor exercise requires an active participation on the part of the individual -- an active participation that might be lacking in obese individuals especially in an overall passive culture, which encourages and promotes passive treatment such as drug treatment.
Jessica LaRose (2013) has shown that young adults who combat obesity do so from the motivational standpoint of "appearance and social influences" (p. 449). Older adults are more motivated to lose weight because of overall health concerns (LaRose, 2013, p. 449). For both young adults and older adults, however, "physical activity appears to play an important role in their weight-loss efforts" (LaRose, 2013, p. 449). This indicates that individuals who suffer from obesity may be motivated to fight the disease for different reasons -- but one major way to fight it is through an active lifestyle in which exercise is a big factor.
Finally, Satoshi Kanazawa (2013) asserts that an important factor in combating obesity is the role of intelligence. More informed individuals are more likely to control their BMI through dietary means. Individuals who have been made aware of the nature of obesity actively develop diets that help them to fight the disease.
Potential interventions in the treatment of obesity are designed to assist the individual to reach and maintain a healthy, normal BMI. One of the key methods of intervention is informational campaigns. Raising national awareness about the dangers of unhealthy dietary habits and inactive lifestyles can do a great deal in encouraging individuals to take a more active and responsible part in their own fight against obesity. National best-sellers like Fast Food Nation brought the problem of fast food into the national spotlight in a way that other works had previously been unable to achieve. The rise of markets like Whole Foods across the nation and the promotion of healthier lifestyles on the Internet are also role players in obesity intervention.
However, the most productive intervention depends upon the individual. A person determined to fight obesity will want to develop a routine with goals in mind, like the gradual reduction of one's weight over a series of months. A weight-loss program designed by a team of physicians and experts in the medical field is an essential part of potentially successful interventions. Such a program might include the adoption of a low-calorie diet. Because obese individuals have a difficult time burning excess calories, a diet that limits the number of calories one consumes can help. Part of the concept of the weight-loss program is for the individual to feel fuller even though the individual is…