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Paige Hill Dr. Brown Rhetoric and Research 110 16 February 2006

Obesity in America In the United States today, obesity has become an enormous problem. In the last 3 decades, the number of people overweight has increased dramatically. A study done by the Centers of Disease Control showed that since 1980, one third of our adult population has become overweight. America is the richest but also the fattest nation in the world, and our obese backsides are the butt of jokes in every other country (Klein 28). The 1980s were a time when Americans suddenly started going crazy over dieting, jumping onto the treadmills, and buying prepackaged non-fat foods. However, while all of that was going on, the number of obese Americans began to increase. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 58 million people in our country weigh over 20 percent of their body’s ideal weight. The article “Fat Times” states, “If this were about tuberculosis, it would be called an epidemic” (Elmer-Dewit 58). The eating habits of society have steadily become more harmful and have started to produce gluttonous children, over-indulgent adults, and a food industry set too much on satisfying our appetites. Obesity can begin at a very young age. Many children in our society are overweight, setting themselves up for serious health problems later in life. Type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart problems are just some of the risks. Children who are overweight also tend to feel less secure, less happy, and be stressed more than normal weight

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children do. They get teased, criticized, and judged. In many cases, the problem is not the child’s fault. Being overweight may run in that child’s family, or their parents do not encourage them to be active and get enough exercise. Many children spend too much time indoors wasting away in front of the TV, playing video games, or spending time on the computer, and consuming high fat snacks, soft drinks and candy at the same time (Weight Management). The CDC performed a study in 1994 that was described in the book Fat Land; it showed that children who watched over four hours of television a day had higher body mass index (body fatness) numbers than those who watched less than one hour a day. In 1994, The Centers for Disease Control studied the TV viewing time, exercise patterns, and weight gain of 4063 children aged eight to fifteen. The results found that the less a child exercised and the more they watched TV, the more likely they were to be obese or overweight. When they surveyed the parents, they discovered that the concern about crime was a reason that the parents didn’t want their children outside being active. That is why they were not concerned about the harmful effect of sitting in front of the TV all day; they were just glad that their children were safe. Surveys, studies, and reports that came out in the 1990s began to show shocking results of how “socially disfranchised” children were becoming from being obese (Critser 73-74). Schools aren’t helping the children either; How can the school nutritionist compete against BigFoot pizzas and Super-Size fries? The $50,000 the U.S. government allots each state annually to teach kids to eat right is lost next to the billions spent designing food and packaging that will ring the kids' Pavlovian bells… the percentage of teens who are overweight, which held steady at about 15% through the 1970s, rose to 21% by 1991. ‘The kids eat nothing but junk food’ says Liam Hennessey, a special-ed teacher from San Francisco who watches students on

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school trips open the lunches their parents pack for them, gobble up the Oreos and PopTarts and toss out the sandwiches” (Elmer-Dewitt). A Harvard Health Report, “Weight Less, Live Longer,” discusses how many people do not realize that their appetite and diet can be closely related to many psychological factors. Any person who has ever binged on chips or cookies when they feel upset can understand this. Several studies have shown that people tend to eat more when they feel anxious, depressed, or have symptoms of other emotional disorders. Certain foods have been known to have a calming effect, although unfortunately it is usually the fattening foods that do. When a depressed person eats to feel better, they gain weight, and being overweight can in turn cause depression and the emotional problems that signal overeating. A vicious cycle begins. Being overweight can cause more emotional problems than just overeating, however. Sadly, obese people are very often socially shunned, judged, criticized, and made fun of. They have more trouble finding jobs, friends, and mates. Being discriminated against just adds to the emotional strain that overweight people have to deal with. Their depression from being obese can cause feelings of hopelessness, making it seem impossible for them to try to lose weight and change the way they look (Why People Become Overweight). The book Food as a Drug describes some studies that have been done to try and see if obesity could be considered the same as a drug dependency disorder. Food can sometimes be a powerful psychoactive substance, and “one way to view eating disorders is to appreciate that food is a complex mixture and that the body responds to food as it does to chemicals, such as those found in alcohol and other psychoactive drugs. Eating disorders are therefore chemical disorders” (Food as a Drug). The food we eat in America is another factor contributing to the nation’s obese population. The desire for junk food has rapidly replaced the desire for fruits and vegetables and

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other healthy edibles. Who can blame people for buying it? It’s easy, quick, cheap, and fun. What people can be blamed for is the amount they eat. Junk food defined is food packed with chemicals, sugar, and sodium, such as french fries, hamburgers, and sweets. Junk food is not just limited to snacks; fast food was put on the list when the calories, fat, sodium, and chemical content surpassed the nutritional value. “Although many health authorities insist that there is no such thing as junk food, consumers find it a useful term for distinguishing nourishing food from products whose chief appeal is fun, convenience, and addictive taste; ‘bet you can't eat just one’ ”(Junk Food). Americans are spending about $4.6 billion a year on potato chips, and 23.5 billion a year on candy and gum. 46 Percent of adult Americans eat out on a typical day, and one third of them choose fast food. That is because the fast food industry has slowly become one of the symbols of American culture and is spreading to other cultures as well: McDonalds has 26,000 locations in 119 countries, Pizza Hut has more than 10,000 in 86 countries, and Subway has 14,500 in 75 countries. Commercials, signs, and huge advertisements are pushing junk food at us every day; people can not even go to the grocery store without candy bars being lined up right by the checkout. The junk food industry realizes how appealing it can be. When a person is in a rush, they can easily eat a large meal without having to make a lot of decisions, work, dress up, or get out of their car. The speed and convenience fit Americans’ pressured lifestyles. It does not fit, however, to our health and wellness. A fast food meal, such as a Burger King Double Whopper with cheese, contains 965 calories, more than double the amount of fat, and as much as 750 grams too much sodium for the day. The food is providing all the wrong ingredients; it has too much protein and fat and no fiber or vitamins. It is no wonder our nation is so overweight when the food they make habit of eating can be so dangerous. It is very unfortunate that

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Americans get to the point where fat caters to their hurried lifestyles. Junk food may not be altogether toxic, but when it is eaten on a habitual basis it can be deadly (“Junk Food”). Excessive weight on the body can pose some extremely serious health risks. Just some of those risks are type 2 diabetes, infertility, hypertension, heart attacks, colon cancer, prostate cancer, hyperlipidemia, and breast cancer. The general mechanism for gaining weight is obvious and simple. When people consume more calories than the body can burn, the body stores those calories as fat tissue. However, some genetic factors can play a part, such as how the body regulates the metabolic rate and appetite. Some people use their genetics as an excuse, but actually those that have the predisposition to gaining weight do not have to be fat (CarsonDewitt). “People with only a moderate genetic predisposition to be overweight have a good chance of losing weight on their own by eating fewer calories and getting more vigorous exercise more often. These people are more likely to be able to maintain this lower weight” (Why People Become Overweight). It is mainly the amount of fat that people make a habit of eating and their lifestyle that plays the biggest role in their overall health. Some symptoms of obesity are excess fatty tissue and excessive weight gain, causing arthritis, lower back pain and other orthopedic problems, hernias, heartburn, adult-onset asthma, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, gum disease, gallstones, skin disorders, shortness of breath that can be incapacitating, sleep apnea, and emotional and social problems. Studies have shown that individuals who are “appleshaped” tend to have higher risks of risk heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes than people whose weight sits in their hips and thighs and are “pear-shaped” (Carson-Dewitt). The book Eating Disorders and Obesity points out also that where fat is deposited in the body makes a difference in disease risk. The intra-abdominal fat is very dangerous. In this area, fat cells produce harmful chemicals that go to the liver. Lipacidemia (the presence of fatty acid in the

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blood) obstructs oxygen and glucose from being transported to the muscles, thus increasing the body’s resistance to insulin. The book also shows statistics that adult onset diabetes is most sensitive to weight gain. “A gradient in risk of more than 50-fold is seen from the leanest to the heaviest men and women, and even modest gains in weight from age 18 to midlife are associated with an increase in risk several times greater than that of a person who maintained a stable weight” (Eating Disorders and Obesity). Increased BMI (body mass index) of 23 to 25 had increased abnormalities in blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and serum lipids. People who are overweight may try to present the benefit of less hip fractures and broken bones than people who are lean (because of more padding), but heart disease and diabetes are far more important and dangerous health risks. There are no benefits to being overweight (Eating Disorders and Obesity). Preventing obesity at an early age is very beneficial to people’s health and self-esteem. Parents can prevent their children from becoming obese later in life more than they know. They need to be role models for their children, and set examples of a good lifestyle. Regulating how much the child eats is important, especially what they’re eating. Sugar should be cut down, as well as high-calorie snacks. Limiting time in front of the TV and computer could increase physical activity as well (Weight Management). The article “Obesity” explains that obese adults whose parents never taught them good eating and health habits have to take care of themselves and change their lifestyles. Treating obesity is not just about quick weight loss, it is about setting up a lifelong pattern of good choices. “Yo-Yo” dieting is very dangerous and can increase a person’s risk for fatal diseases. Behavior-focused treatment should concentrate on learning and understanding the fat content and overall nutritional value of most foods. Overweight individuals may need to keep a food diary to record their calories and food choices, and change habits in

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grocery shopping, times of meals, and actual rate of eating. Some psychological factors, such as how a person views food, could play a part. Some people overeat when they are under extreme stress, for example, and see food as a comfort. Others may eat to reward themselves for success. Many views of food are contributing to why people gain weight so quickly, and if people can identify the psychological reasons behind why they eat so much, they could prevent a lot of problems. The article continues by describing how physical activity is another life habit that is vital to make. The amount of time someone spends exercising and being active can contribute much to his or her overall health. As many as 85% of dieters who do not exercise on a regular basis regain their lost weight within two years. In five years, the figure rises to 90%. Exercise increases the metabolic rate by creating muscle, which burns more calories than fat. When regular exercise is combined with regular, healthful meals, calories continue to burn at an accelerated rate for several hours. When individuals work hard and build endurance, it helps them not feel discouraged. New activities and varied routines can help them not lose interest in staying active. Individuals trying to make these life changes would be wise to be encouraged and supervised by a medical professional. Weight loss programs, such as “Weight Watchers” can sometimes be effective, as they emphasize realistic goals, sensible eating, gradual progress and exercise. However, some can be dangerous because they promise extreme weight loss and may put people on dangerous diet plans or pills. Most doctors would not approve of those, but would recommend a low calorie diet (about 1200 to 1500 calories a day), or a liquid protein diet for up to three months. Along with the supervision of dieting and exercise, the doctor would probably recommend a psychiatrist to help the patient deal with their views on food. Sometimes appetitesuppressant pills are administered, which increase levels of serotonin or catecholamine, chemicals that control feelings of fullness. Food plays a huge part though; “getting the correct

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ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and good-quality fats can help in weight loss via enhancement of the metabolism. Support groups that are informed about healthy, nutritious, and balanced diets can offer an individual the support he or she needs to maintain this type of eating regimen” (Obesity). Obesity experts have made the point that monitoring fat consumption is more important than just counting calories. Just 30 percent of calories eaten per day should come from fat, and only one third of those calories should come from saturated fat (Obesity). Many Americans are trying to fight the battle against obesity. Many aren’t winning. How can they when packaging on junk food is distracting children from the salad bar, or when adults see commercials for huge meals every 10 minutes on television? Food is being pushed at Americans constantly; there seems no way to get around the message of “you have to eat.” There seems to be no way to achieve fitness goals because there are too many obstacles. Whether a person’s obstacles are their genetics and metabolism, their depression, or their habits and lifestyle, being overweight is one of the hardest things in life to deal with. The things that obese people have to deal with are very unfortunate. The health problems are harmful enough to wellbeing, but the cycle of depression and emotional problems that comes along with obesity in so many cases can be worse. Obese people have to walk through life constantly being reminded of their damaging habits and things can seem so hopeless. It is so important to start healthy habits early in life. The benefits of good behavior and good life patterns can make life more fulfilling, worth living for and longer lasting. Americans used to embrace healthy eating habits but the country got so busy that good ideals were thrown away. The problem of obesity is not just about food; it is about an entire lifestyle.

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Works Cited Brownell, Kelly D. and Christopher G. Fairburn, ed. Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook. New York: Guilford Press, 1995. Critser, Greg. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. Elmer-Dewit, Philip. “Fat times”. Time. Jan 16, 1995 v145 n2 p58 (8). Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006. "Junk Food: How Much Can You Get Away With?" The PDR Family Guide to Nutrition and Health. David W. Sifton, Editor in Chief. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., A Thomson HealthCare Company, January 2003. Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006. Klein, Calvin. “Big Country: the Roots of American Obesity.” The New Republic. Sept 19, 1994 v211 n12-13 p28 (5). Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006. Poston, Walker and Keith Haddock, ed. Food as a Drug. New York: Hawthorne Press Inc., 2000. Rosalyn, Carson-Dewitt, MD. "Obesity." The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Second Edition. Jacqueline L. Longe, Editor. 5 vols. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2001. Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006. “Weight Management for Children”. CareNotes. March 1, 2005 pNA. Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006. "Why People Become Overweight." Weigh Less, Live Longer (Harvard Special Health Reports). In consultation with Lee M. Kaplan, M.D., Ph.D. Stanford, CT: Harvard Health

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Publications, 2001. Health and Wellness Resource Center. William J. Squires Library, 2 February 2006.

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