Either our society is uneducated or too naïve believing that eating fast-food and lack of exercise is merely the reason for our obese population. For example, I have two adult sons, who are full blood brothers, and three years apart in age. My oldest one consumes a tremendous amount of food in a given day. He is slim and healthy, and does not exercise anywhere near like he used to. My younger son eats significantly less than his brother does, exercises more often, plays basketball daily, but is on the very large side, and has high blood pressure. By definition he technically is obese.
If it were true that obesity is caused exclusively by our poor food choices, the amount in which we consume, and lack of exercise, my oldest son would be obese and have health issues as well. Clearly that assumption and theory is inaccurate and is contradicting, as proven through my personal experience.
It is quite astonishing that a large part of our society appears to believe the fallacy of obesity being solely a matter of one’s personal responsibility. Is it that we are uneducated about the issue? Or is it that we are opinionated and narrow minded thinking it is only in relation to poor eating choices and laziness through lack of exercise? Do we take personal responsibility for the fallacies we believe? Or do we just want to judge and blame our obese population with the notion being it is their own fault?
In Radley Balko’s essay, What You Eat Is Your Business, his opinion is that our well-being, shape, and condition is not, and should not be, a matter of “public health”. Rather it is a matter of personal responsibility. His complaint is that we are becoming less responsible for our own health, and are responsible for everyone else’s. According to Balko, the government ought to be working to adopt a sense of personal responsibility in ownership of our own health and well-being, as opposed to the anti-obesity measures with State legislature and school boards across the country banning snacks and sodas from school campus vending machines. His position is that is not the right way to fight obesity.
He believes socialism will result if the responsibility is left to our government. He disagrees with their involvement because if they are funding our health care issues and medications related to our poor health from making the poor eating choices that we do, what incentive is there to Americans to “put down the cheeseburger?” He states, it would also open up more avenues for federal restrictions on consumer choices and civil liberties, in addition to society becoming responsible for everyone else’s well-being. He has confidence in having it hit us as a financial burden to pay for others; we will individually make changes for the better, and truly care about living a healthier lifestyle.
He suspects having the obese population pay higher insurance premiums will give them a financial incentive for maintaining a healthy lifestyle by making better choices about diet, exercise, and personal health. He implies he would like to see insurance companies reward those with healthy lifestyles and penalize those with poor ones.
However, he is against the “fat tax” on high calorie foods, with Congress considering menu-labeling as a way to fight obesity. He does not believe in manipulation or intervention of the food options available to consumers, but does believe the government should be working towards individual ownership and responsibility in our health and well-being.
I’m of two minds about Balko’s claim that obesity is a personal responsibility. On one hand I do agree that it is absolutely our own responsibility to eat properly with healthy foods, exercise, and be proactive with our health issues and bodies. On the other hand, I disagree that obesity is solely a personal responsibility. There are several factors that contribute to weight, making it way too complicated to say obesity is only from one’s poor eating choices and lack of exercise. It is a very complex web of what seems like a simple problem, or better yet, a simple solution.
Ultimately, body weight is affected and the result of genetics, metabolism, environment, behavior, culture, ethnicities, diseases, stress, and tendency if one or both parents are obese. Lack of sleep can also play a role in a person’s weight. Stress is connected to weight gain because a high level of the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to increase appetite, drive cravings for junk food, and make it that much easier to pack on pounds. Ohio State studies show that stress may also result in burning fewer calories.
Diseases such as Hypothyroidism, Gestational Diabetes, Dysthymia (chronic depression), Cushing’s syndrome (abnormally high levels of hormone cortisol), certain cancers, and AIDS all contribute to weight gain. Pregnancy, PMS, and menopause are also other factors. Depression, usually genetic as well, is an extremely large contributor to weight gain.
It typically makes people want to eat more as a way of self-comfort. Most people have heard of the term “comfort food”, and it can be exactly that to a depressed or discouraged person. Some even develop an addiction to food because of it. A truly physical and emotional healthy person typically does not see or rely on food as means of comfort.
Another contributing factor to obesity is economics. Eating “healthy” is more costly. To those who lack funds to eat healthy, it is much harder than for them as opposed to others who are financially more equipped to purchase the more expensive foods, cookbooks, gym memberships, etc. By no means am I saying it’s not possible if you are not wealthy, or in an upper class status, but it does not come as naturally or easily as it does to those with “more money in the bank” so to speak.
There are claims that eating healthy “wholesome foods” are means of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, David Freedman’s article, “How Junk Food Can End Obesity,” basically kills that whole theory. He proves that while these foods claim to have “no processing and do not contain any genetically modified ingredients”, what they do contain is more than three times the fat content per ounce than the beef patty in a McDonald’s Big Mac. They also have more than two-thirds the calories from fat, plus 4 times the sodium! A healthy snack alternative he picked up at Trader Joe’s, a “wholesome food” store, by weight, had six times as much fat as it did protein, along with loads of carbs.
These glorified “wholesome foods” are in any case just as caloric and obesogenic as anything served at our fast-food chains. Freedman states “No reasonable scenario under which “wholesome foods” could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the obese population.” Fast-food is convenient with several different restaurants to choose from, not as time consuming, and is less expensive, than the “healthy foods.”
David Zinczenko’s article, “Don’t Blame the Eater”, supports this by stating “drive down any thoroughfare in America, and I guarantee you’ll see one of our country’s more than 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants. Now, drive back up the block and try to find someplace to buy a grapefruit.”
With us not having calorie information charts on fast-food packaging the way there is on grocery items, no warning labels on ads the same way tobacco ads do, and prepared foods not covered under FDA laws, with the lack of proper knowledge and/or lack of information about what we are truly consuming, trickery by the wholesome food industry, and the complication with the lack of alternatives, it’s not surprising that we have such an obese population.
Zinczenko states, through his own personal experience as a mid-80’s latchkey kid, having divorced parents, leading his mother to work long hours to pay the monthly bills, with his dad off trying to rebuild his life, lunch and dinner for him were a daily choice between four fast-food chains. This is very true for most of our teenagers today. With divorce rates at an all-time high, it leaves the majority of children and their parents turning to the more cost effective and convenient foods like the ones typically served at fast-food restaurants.
I, like many other moms’ in America today, am divorced, have raised 3 children on my own for the past 10 years, work full time, and live paycheck to paycheck. Sure we have eaten a lot of fast food. At times, it’s literally all I can afford with the lack of sufficient funds needed to solely maintain a household of 4. Under no circumstance is it my children’s fault that they have come from a broken home with divorced parents, and a financially struggling single mother. Why should they unfairly have to pay higher insurance premiums and/or be penalized for their reality to no fault of their own? I believe that no one should have to pay for their situation that has been out of their control.
I resent the stigmatism and the assumption that obese people only eat bad or junk food and have a lack of exercise. As I stated previously, there are many factors that contribute to our society’s obese population. It’s a person’s reality that they may not have the money to live as healthy and properly as they should.
It is more “normal” these days to come from a broken or divorced home, than to have both parents residing together under the same roof. The majority of our wages are not the best or equivalent to the actual cost of living. Our communities are poor by lacking sufficient resources. We have mental disorders such as depression that are medically and physically out of our control. We have genetics and metabolism that we cannot control. We can help our metabolism along the way, but ultimately cannot control or change to its entirety. We can go out and exercise for free by walking, running, etc. However, for those living in a community filled with gangs, violence, and/or drugs, it can make them not feel safe enough to leave their homes to go out for “free exercise.” We are not all equal in relation to our financial status or resources, environments and surroundings, our cultures and upbringings. All of these issues can play a major role in obesity.
It is a very complex matter that cannot be summed up as simply as it being a lack of self-control, laziness, or personal responsibility. There are two old adages that are definitely very true, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, and don’t judge someone until you walk in their shoes.” Keeping that in mind, it is important that our society be understanding and help educate each other. Instead of assuming and judging, we need to come together to teach our obese population how to select healthier foods, read labels, use portion control, exercise, and become more proactive for themselves. We should not condemn and punish them by paying higher insurance premiums, penalize them for their unhealthy lifestyle, while we’re rewarding those with healthier ones. We cannot completely blame them and/or expect them to cover everyone’s health costs, which in my opinion will cause jealousy and resentment. It will most likely lead to further stress, depression, and discouragement, causing many to eat even more. The vicious cycle will never end this way. And we most certainly cannot compare them than to those who are more fortunate, directly or indirectly.
Before we make assumptions on obesity or any matter, we need to educate ourselves to see the full picture, have all the facts, and understand there are many contributing factors to any given matter or situation. Not everything is exactly as it seems. Hopefully through education and understanding, our society will change its misconception on obesity.
Balko, Radley. “What You Eat Is Your Business.” edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russell Durst. They Say, I Say with Readings 3rd ed. W. W. Norton & Comapny, 2015. pp. 466-470
Freedman, David H. “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.” edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russell Durst. They Say, I Say with Readings 3rd ed . W. W. Norton & Company, 2015 . pp. 506-537
Zinczenko, David. “Don’t Blame The Eater.” edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russell Durst. They Say, I Say with Readings 3rd ed. W. W. Norton & Company , 2015. pp. 462-465
Health, Harvard T. H. Chan School Of Public. “Obesity Causes”, 2017. 20 June 2107
Healthline Media Medically Reviewed by Kruick, George. MD, MBA. “What Causes Unintentional Weight Gain”, 2005-2107. 20 June 2017
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Causes”, 23 February 2017. 20 June 2017
Wikipedia. “Metabolism”, 23 June 2107. 20 June 2017