Human Responsibility in Managing Obesity
Obesity is the physical condition of accumulation of excessive fat in the body, and is one of the leading causes of preventable morbidity and mortality in the world. The World Health Organization defines Obesity “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health” (World Health Organization). One of its common causes is poor lifestyle that includes unhealthy dieting and an absent physical activity. However, genetic susceptibility to obesity and hormonal disorders also contribute to obesity. Obesity leads to a multitude of complications such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, Arthritis, and is also a major contributing factor for certain types of cancers, physical disabilities, and mental illnesses (Malik et al, 628). The main components of obesity management include dietary management and exercising. There is a strong correlation between obesity and the food consumption of an individual (Swinburn et al, 804). Many studies which I read report the connection between the fast foods that which are highly sought after by many people, and their relative increase in weight. These fast foods are high in calorie content and low in nutrition, thus adding empty calories to the body without providing the nourishment provided by a balanced diet. There can be many reasons for the preference of fast foods over mainstream diet, including the addiction to taste, low priced foodstuffs, and intense targeted marketing of the fast food companies. However, it lies in the individual discretion to regulate one’s consumption of fast foods and mandate oneself a healthy diet.
In this essay, I will be discussing the history of fast foods, its culture, the economy of fast foods, and the impact it has on the society. I will also analyse the influence of fast food restaurants and unhealthy dieting on obesity. Throughout the essay, I will be attempting to answer the question – “Are we taking it too far by blaming fast-food restaurants for obesity? And “When is it individual responsibility and when is it appropriate to place blame?” with adequate literature support and justifications.
Fast foods can be associated with industrialization and urbanization, where a lot of people felt that they did not have the time for a conventional meal. The first fast food restaurant was the “Automat”, which started by serving food and drinks by vending machines. Going by the slogan “Less work for Mother”, they caused a sensation in the restaurant industry which was imbibed by various other companies. The food that was made by the restaurants was fast and less time consuming, and contained ingredients with a lot of preservatives, thus increasing their shelf life (Schlosser, 59). This was a fact which was conveniently ignored by the consumers, who kept on going back to the fast food restaurants due to the addiction for the taste of their foods.
With the advent of automobiles, drive-through restaurants became a convenience, and this led to many people preferring fast foods on long drives. Post globalization, several fast food restaurant chains sprang up in the market, thus making it a billion dollar industry (Zhong and DeVoe, 619). As of today, the United States has the maximum number of fast-food chains globally. However, due to the sudden rise of the obesity epidemic in the USA, many regulations are now mandated in fast food joints, even though the people’s love for fast-foods is hard to change. The marketing strategy of fast food restaurants was to focus on the “inconvenience of waiting for food” which was experienced on a daily basis. Once fast foods had been marketed as more of a necessity than a luxury, and deeply ingrained in the minds of people as the savior of time, fast food restaurants deeply established themselves in the society (Harris, Schwartz and Brownell, 3). With the changing lifestyle of the people from a conventional one to a more urbanized one, the reception of fast foods was very good, and the industry continued to thrive. This change in culture could be seen as the emphasis was more on saving time, and being in a rush, even when there is no hurry. Today, fast food replacements are a common in every party and celebration, replacing the traditional homemade treats. This change can be attributed to the sudden rise of obesity globally, as people were not incentivized to look into the individual ingredients of each item, but look into its convenience aspect alone.
With the advent of globalization, most fast food restaurants have franchisees out of the United States, which tend to negatively contribute to that country’s health status. However, due to increasing awareness, the consumption of fast foods has been reduced a lot by people in many Asian countries, even though the fad still continues unabated in the United States. This can be seen in the increasing obesity percentages, which is at an alarming rate of over 50% (Sturm and Hattori, 889). The fast food industry does contribute more than a hundred million dollars annually to the economy of the United States. However, the pricing of the individual fast food items are comparatively low, and reach the economically lower strata of the population easily. Many of the researches which I referred have focused on the fact that fast foods are usually the go-to foods for the economically downtrodden people who rely on food stamps for survival (Walker, Keane and Burke, 876). Coincidentally, there is a high prevalence of obesity in the homeless population of the United States. People who are economically disadvantaged tend to prefer fast foods for a complete meal, as they are unable to afford healthy foods. The high content of sugars, corn syrup, sodium, and fat content in the fast foods when consumed regularly tends to make them obese. To counter this issue, healthy foods must be made available at an affordable pricing, so that everyone can benefit from it.
This brings forth a question – How and why are junk foods that are high in fat and sugars, and low in nutrition priced very low? There can be many reasons to this, such as ease of availability of ingredients that are usually pre-packaged, processed and preserved, low labour time and costs, and a longer shelf life. However, a higher supply and demand for fast foods can be attributed as the main reason, given that many people prefer fast foods even when given the option of a healthier food (Dunn et al, 349). This significantly increases the demand for fast foods, which makes it available at affordable pricing. This in turn forms the staple food for the economically lower sections of the society, leading them to poor health and obesity. This gives us another question – Why is the demand for fast foods very high? Is it due to the fast food industry or due to one’s dietary choices made as an individual? To answer this, one must understand the impact of fast foods on health and on the society.
A healthy diet is eating the right amount of food with the right amount of nutrients in it, in right intervals of time. After eating a wholesome and a balanced diet, the person will be left satiated and will not crave for more food, until he/she is hungry again (World Health Organization). The World Health Organization makes five recommendations for healthy eating, which are to ensure that one consumes the same number of calories that one burns out, limits the content of fat, limits the intake of sugar, limits the intake of salt, and ensure that salt is fortified with iodine, and consumes at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables in the diet Obesity is caused by consuming excess calories than one burns, and consuming more salt, sugar, and fats than the prescribed norms. An unhealthy diet has a lot of fat, sugar and salt content in it, which upon consuming do not cause satiety to the person, causing him to overeat. This increases the fat content of the person, which will not be burnt out without exercising extra. Fast foods are a classic example of an unhealthy diet, owing to which there is a growing concern of obesity. However, many researchers say that it is not only the fast foods that cause obesity, but the regular consumption of conventional meals that are rich in carbohydrate and fat content as well (Poti, Duffey and Popkin, 162). The overconsumption of butter, cheese, and other fatty substances in the diet and excessive sugar-laden desserts, which are not compensated by adequate dietary proteins and fibre, poor exercise, and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to obesity at large. Another issue is overeating, which is usually caused by the large food portions that are a norm in the United States.
Most researchers attribute the increasing problem of obesity to overconsumption of processed foods with little or no nutritional value, and the ease of availability of fast foods which tend to induce people to consume it for immediate gratification of hunger (Sharma and Padwal, 362). Fast foods have become an integral part of the culture of the United States today, with the restaurants and products becoming a household name. The heavy marketing by the fast food chains to attract people from all ages definitely plays an important role in the increased consumption. The restaurants attracting children to consume fast foods by providing children’s meals that have toys included in them increase their addiction to the fast foods (Biro and Wien 1499S). Due to a change in lifestyle from a family oriented one to a career oriented one; it is quite a common sight to see many children at fast food restaurants even at mornings for breakfast. This, combined with a sedentary lifestyle due to technological advancements keeping the children indoors, contribute to childhood obesity. Also, one must take into account the ease of availability of the fast food restaurants. For example, within a five-minute walk from workstations are almost all fast food joints, and the convenience of obtaining them added to the availability of the doorstep delivery services tend to make the human addicted to the convenience. Large portion sizes and the economics of buying in bulk add to the fact that people become unaware of how much they eat, leading to obesity.
An overweight or an obese child is at a high risk of acquiring health related disorders such as Type 2 Diabetes, eating disorders and mental illnesses such as depression. They are also highly likely to be subject to body shaming and ridicule amongst peers, which worsens the situation. It is strange that in the American culture, both having a slim body and eating fast foods are being promoted together, and the pressure is on the individual not to fall for either of them. On the other hand, if a person does not conform to the lifestyle of consuming fast foods and sugary drinks, he/she is still ridiculed for not getting along with peers (Huang et al, 139). Fast foods have become a societal norm, and it is precisely this attitude of the society towards fast foods that affects its health. This can be seen by the average American school lunch, which consists of a lot of processed food products and condiments. There is also a widespread addiction to soda, which is high on sugar. If the problem of obesity is to be countered, the attitude of the people towards leading an unhealthy lifestyle has to be changed.
The above analyses of fast foods on the society point out that the human factors play an important role in keeping the fast food industry in business. However, the effect of intense marketing and playing to the psychological vulnerabilities of the human minds by the fast food companies in attracting customers cannot be ignored (Andreyeva, Kelly and Harris, 221). Another factor to be considered is the increasing economic inequality, which makes healthy food unaffordable to people in the lower economic strata, thus forcing upon them an unhealthy lifestyle. This becomes a vicious cycle that is unable to be broken (Tsai and Rosenheck, 29). One other factor is the lack of awareness of many people about the adverse effects of fast foods on one’s health. This is aided by the fact that most fast food industries do not disclose the ingredients that constitute their food items. The serving sizes, and the ease of availability of foods at a large quantity for a cheap rate makes the customers buy more food in bulk, which either goes waste or is consumed, causing overeating. The emotional attachment to one’s tastes and the human evolutionary trait of hoarding food whenever available contributes to the lack of human control when it comes to eating junk food. Thus, there is no point in playing the blame game in finding the cause of obesity, for there are both human and industry factors involved. Blaming fast food restaurants for their aggressively marketing a product which sells only because we consume it cannot be justified.
This essay attempted to answer the question “Are we taking it too far by blaming fast-food restaurants for obesity”. From the above analyses, we can come to a conclusion that even though the intense marketing by the food industry is a major role player, the main contributor for obesity is human responsibility, or the lack of it, in controlling one’s diet and taking care of one’s health. Each one’s body responds differently to different foods, so it is in each and every individual’s hands to ensure that the food he/she intakes are compensated for by adequate workouts.
The advent of technology has made human lifestyle more or less sedentary. However, the same technology has made it easy to watch one’s weight, control one’s intake, and monitor one’s exercise programs. Thus, one must make the right use of technology to live a healthier life. It is imperative to find a solution to the obesity epidemic, and holistically work towards its management for a healthier future. The problem of obesity is for real. It is in our hands to ensure that we take fast foods in moderation, and maintain a proper diet to weight ratio to combat obesity, and ensure that the future generation stays healthy.
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