Americans have been increasingly concerned about weight gain in recent years, and with good reason. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans is obese, making it common to speak of obesity as an epidemic a widespread problem that affects the society as a whole rather than an affliction of individuals who make poor eating decisions.
Who is Obese?
The obesity rate has fallen slightly in recent years and appears to have stabilized among children, but obesity does not affect all portions of the population equally. Obesity disproportionately affects those who with less money and education, as well as women. And obesity affects earning power and other forms of opportunity in turn: The obese earn as much as 18 percent less than those of "normal weight," according to a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report. In light of these considerations, taxing unhealthy food an approach adopted by Denmark, Hungary, France and Finland is problematic because it puts the economic burden of obesity on those most directly disadvantaged by it.
Healthy Eating Begins in Childhood
According to Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the trick to reducing obesity is to change the way that children eat. Wootan says that by serving healthier lunches in schools and removing vending machines, we can habituate children to healthier eating. She also suggests that part of the problem is that 80 percent of food marketing aimed at children advertises unhealthy food an argument that recalls the controversy around cigarettes being marketed to children. Children who learn to eat healthfully are likely to remain healthy throughout their lives, while those who don't will face an uphill battle.
Preventing the development of obesity in children has been a common goal of many anti-obesity strategies. While such strategies may not produce the quick results that many of us would like to see, they could produce much healthier generations of adults in the years to come.
A Strategy for Prevention
The Institute of Medicine recently released a new strategy for preventing obesity in the United States. The strategy addresses the obesity epidemic from multiple angles, including restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to children, increasing the amount of physical exercise mandated in schools, making healthier food available to children in restaurants and using doctors to disseminate information and advice about healthy eating.
While obesity is a deep-rooted problem that isn't likely to disappear overnight, we can take steps to prevent it from spreading and to eventually reverse the trend. It seems clear that no easy answer or single strategy will solve the problem of obesity in our society, just as drastic dietary changes tend to produce temporary results for individuals. But approaching the problem from several different angles at once does seem more likely to produce results.