Obesity Trends in the U.S.

Obesity Trends in the U.S.

Obesity itself has existed for as long as people have existed, though the stigma attached to it is a fairly recent, Western phenomenon. In many cultures, both ancient and modern, obesity is seen as a sign of health, fertility, and attractiveness. Where obesity was once a symbol of opulence and wealth, with an increased understanding of the causes and effects of obesity, most people have come to see it as an undesirable condition to be avoided.

An increasing number of critics have challenged the very idea of an obesity "epidemic" and have sought to redefine the terms of the discussion of obesity. Many people feel that obesity is inextricably linked to behavior, but that the behaviors that lead to obesity are established during childhood by misguided authority figures; one of the more popular outlets for this sort of ire is the decline in physical education in schools. Critics of this line of thinking have pointed out that there has been no scientifically proven connection between school physical education and body weight, physical activity, or overall health. Much of the criticism comes from the fact that statistics never tell the whole story, specifically, they say nothing about the cause of obesity.

Over the previous 20 years, obesity in the United States doubled among adults. Furthermore, the number of children above normal weight has doubled, and the number of adolescents above normal weight has tripled. Many plausible causes for this increase have been suggested, including lack of activity, cheaper food, increased food production, as well as numerous social factors, but there is no real consensus on the reason for this extraordinary increase in obesity, and it is likely a combination of several or all of these. Additionally, there are some medical conditions that can lead to obesity, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

The two major positions on obesity are "personal responsibility" and "public interest," with the former encouraging obese people to accept the problem as one of their own making, and thus curable only through their own efforts, and the latter pushing for governmental regulations akin to those applied to tobacco products. The personal responsibility attitude is the more prevalent in American culture, and is reflected in policy. In 2004, however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services retracted its official position that obesity is not a disease, stopping short of positively declaring it a disease, but creating the possibility that obesity-related conditions could be covered by insurance. The public interest view advocates for regulations against entities, such as fast food restaurants, that they claim contribute to the obesity "epidemic," pushing for both better consumer education and stricter penalties for companies that promote unhealthy lifestyles.

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