Webster’s dictionary defines obesity as a “condition of being grossly fat or overweight” (Merriam-Webster, 1999, p. 361). Most experts concur that there is a “close link between poverty,….disease,” and obesity (Barusch, 2012, p. 165). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of the adult population is considered obese (Overweight and Obesity, 2012) with children and young adults pulling up the ranks. Obesity has become a serious health concern of epidemic proportion in the United States. In light of the growing body mass index (BMI) of the population, this paper will address the economic and social factors that contribute to the rise of obesity in the United States (Barusch, 2012, p. 202).
Economic Factors of Obesity
Due to shifting trends in the United States, “…researchers have placed the origin of the….obesity epidemic at the beginning of the 1980’s” (Caprio, 2008, p. 2). One such dramatic shift took place during the industrialized age when families migrated from the rural areas of the country to more urban, populated settings. Income from the agriculture and farming industries were on the decline, and the move was viewed as an opportunity to take advantage of the increased manufacturing jobs available in the bigger cities.
As time progressed, shifts began to take place in the structure of the family as well. The automobile replaced walking as a form of transportation, and exercise. Death, war, and divorce contributed to “the [increased] number of women in the labor force [, which] has been associated with a dramatic shift in family eating habits” (Caprio, 2008, p. 4). More time is dedicated to sedentary jobs than to family, and well-balanced, home-cooked meals. Instead, people are relying heavily on “fast food [, snacks,] and soft drinks, [which] increases dietary intake of saturated fats, sugars, and calories” (Loureiro, 2004). Sadly, even with the increase of work production, discretionary incomes have decreased leaving little or no funds available for family vacations. Rest, relaxation, fun, and laughter aid in the relief of stress and cuts down on future health risks.
Social Factors of Obesity
It is a well-documented fact that “obesity among African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans [far] exceeds that of other ethnic groups” (Caprio, 2008, p. 2). Of these groups, African Americans are unique in that “acculturation [affected our] obesity [rates] by encouraging the abandonment of traditional beliefs, [practices,] and behaviors” (Caprio, 2008, p. 5) as a result of slavery. African Americans are now experiencing the once dormant effects of a diet our bodies were never meant to consume.
Poverty also plays a major role in the obesity rates of people of color because it speaks to access, or the lack thereof. The price of fruits and vegetables are escalating. A common trade-off among communities of color is the inexpensive dietary energy options, which are laden with calories, sugars, and fats, rather than the more nutrient-dense foods that cost more money (Caprio, 2008, p. 3). Oftentimes, inexpensive, unhealthy options are all that is available in poor, low-income neighborhoods.
Unsafe neighborhoods and the lack of playgrounds or parks have made it nearly impossible for children to engage in outdoor play. The electronic age has greatly added to children’s lack of interest in playtime, and parents have become content on allowing gadgets to entertain and babysit. Many children no longer walk to school. Many schools around the nation have dismantled gym and recess periods, which were vital forms of recreational education because it enabled endorphins to be released and fat calories to be burned. Home economics used to be another source of education within the public school system that taught children about nutrition and health which they, in turn, would share with other family members.
As a result of the increased number of adults and children being diagnosed with “type two diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, and depression” (Loureiro, 2004), healthcare costs have skyrocketed. The “allocation of health care is…a social justice issue” because it tends “…to serve economically productive and affluent members of society” (Barusch, 2012, p. 164) more readily than poor, disenfranchised individuals. Access to early treatment, prevention, and education are key factors in battling the crippling epidemic of obesity.
The economic and social factors that contribute to obesity in the United States have the potential for far-reaching consequences on the health and survival of the family unit, the community, and the nation. First Lady, Michelle Obama, addresses these issues in her “Let’s Move” campaign. The idea being early prevention; to get children (and adults) engaged in exercise, and to begin a conversation about health, nutrition, gardening, and food preparation.
The “Let’s Move” campaign has highlighted issues of disparity, poverty, and disenfranchisement that exist within low-income neighborhoods. As a result, healthier foods have been made available to people in these communities through fruit and vegetable carts, farmers markets, and community gardens. School cafeteria lunches have been revamped, and parents are taking a more proactive role in the health of their family. This is a clear example of how one person can empower many others, and give voice to the voiceless in order to affect changes in policy.
Overweight and Obesity. (2012, August 13). Retrieved November 19, 2012, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
Barusch, A. S. (2012). Foundations of Social Policy. Belmont: Brooks/Cole. Print.
Caprio, S. et al. (2008, November 31). Diabetes Care. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from The National Center for Biotechnology Information : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2571048/
Loureiro, M. L. (2004). Choices Magazine. Retrieved November 19, 2012, from Obesity: Economic Dimensions of a "Super Siz" Problem: http://www.choicesmagazine.org/2004-3/obesity/2004-3-02.htm
Merriam-Webster. (1999). Webster's New ExplorerDictionary. Springfield: Federal Street Press. Print.