“Weight: A Rising Concern for American Society”

“Weight: A Rising Concern for American Society” by Jamie Hagwood

It is 3:30 a.m. on a Saturday night and the typical American member of society is flipping through channels eating potato chips. The television screen blares infomercials on most of these vacant channels which encourage this American to sign up for Nutrisystem or buy the latest exercise machine. One can only imagine how much these advertisements profit advertisers, yet these members of the weight loss industry highlight a serious problem in America. In the 2015 report on health, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, roughly 70 percent of adults are considered overweight, with approximately 37 percent of that measure considered to be obese (“Health”). When referring to one who is overweight, such a person may have an overabundance of body weight, whether that come from muscle, bone or fat tissue, as well as water weight (“Overweight”). One who is obese typically has an overabundance of body fat (“Overweight”). These numbers are startling considering the effects of higher body fat on the body – typically heart disease or stroke risks. Given the growing proportion of those overweight and obese in America, weight loss industries and technologies have risen. When considering a weight loss program one is flooded with possibilities, yet some of these programs are dangerous and others help achieve fulfillment healthily.

Weight has been a rising issue as America has become more developed and revolutionized itself in the realm of technology.  The average American’s body size has been rising ever since the 1960s (Cutler et al. 93). To discover the root cause behind why America’s mean weight may have increased during the late 20th century into early 21st century, Dr. David Cutler, Dr. Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro of Harvard University theorized and tested two explanations – caloric consumption and energy expenditure – in their essay “Why Have Americans Become More Obese” from the Journal of Economic Perspectives (98, 102). Self-surveys and agricultural sales data implied that caloric consumption was the more probable culprit given a caloric increase in snacks which suggested a greater frequency of snacking (101). Despite technological changes and employment shifts, general exercise time did not appear to change (104). Many may think the it is a combination of the two factors – that Americans are seemingly lazy and eat uncontrollably – but this is not the case. Why is this rise based solely on increased calories? After World War II, Americans grew to become more urbanized. Researchers Cutler, Glaeser, and Shapiro elaborate, “in the 1960s, the bulk of food preparation was done by families that cooked their own food and ate it at home,” (93). However, by the turn of this the 1960s, mass preparation was more common and an ideal way to consume (105). The food technological revolution allowed for easier access to prepared ingredients and meals by spoil prevention, sterilization, packaging, and temperature control (105). Microwaves and refrigerators became more accessible, which allowed for fast cooking and easier food storage (106). These changes combined to create ideal conditions for issues with self-control, where one can fulfill their food desires quickly and impatiently eat more as a result (113). Thus, as technology advanced, Americans became more obese or overweight and in turn companies attempting to reverse that have advanced as well.

While undertaking the weight loss journey, one may ask themselves, “what am I doing this for?” Of course, personal motivation to lose weight varies from individual to individual. The most typical reason is for one’s health (Hanky et al. 881). Those who are overweight or obese are prone to higher health risks like heart disease, strokes, or diabetes. The excess weight puts strain on the regulatory systems, most importantly that of the cardiovascular system. It is also important to think of the psychological health behind weight loss. As a society, we tend to care about how we appear to others. Improving appearance is also a more common motivation for losing weight, however this motivation is more common in younger individuals (881). In modern society, it is typical to see weight concern and dieting grow during the adolescent stage of life, particularly for girls (Oellingrath et al. 265). While weight is a concern for both men and women, young women and girls are more likely to view themselves as weighing more than in reality, and in turn attempt to achieve thinness through dieting strategies (270). From personal experience, I can say that the need to feel thin was strongest during the later years of middle school and all throughout high school. A compulsion to “fit in” drove me toward bad eating habits, like skipping breakfast and other meals throughout the day. As a result, I craved junk foods like cookies, chips, and ice cream. The pressure to be slim is relatively equal between boys and girls, however girls feel the pressure to be thin whereas boys feel the pressure to be lean (Hanky et al. 270-271). These pressures can continue into adulthood. I have since graduated high school and recognize the pressure to be thin which previously motivated me to lose weight has shifted to a motivation for healthier living. Unfortunately, people of all ages and genders can be the subject of sociocultural influences, among other influences, and are flooded with the possibilities of the weight loss industry. These range from exercise and dieting programs, to pills, to physician approved treatment plans and simple diet and exercise.

In theory, weight loss programs are a way to achieve a healthy way of life. Anytime one undergoes a program such as this, they should consult their doctor. Conversely, the average American does not take the time to sit down with their doctor before signing up for a gym membership or Weight Watchers. Sometimes certain plans can have negative effects on the body, and are considered unhealthy. These include fasting and excretory methods like vomiting or taking laxatives (Kruger 405). Fasting is harmful if consistently done. This behavior is commonly associated with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, where subjects eat very little or nothing at all, essentially starving themselves until they receive medical help. Fasters may also be suffering from binge eating disorder, where they go from long periods of not eating anything at all, to a short period of time of eating a great amount of food. The fluctuation of food-intake is drastic to the digestive tract. Another well-known eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. Those with this disorder typically use laxatives or insinuate their gag reflex to get rid of food quickly after they’ve eaten it. This can lead to digestive problems, acidic erosion of the teeth and esophagus, and malnutrition. While these disorders are not something most people face, anyone can turn to fasting, laxatives, and vomiting as a method to lose weight. With health in mind, one may be drawn to dieting pills under the idea of medicine being helpful. The idea that diet pills are negatively associated with weight loss is not necessarily true for these pills, like any medicine, which help to assist individuals. If used appropriately, dieting pills help those who cannot lose weight on diet and exercise alone (405). These pills work in different ways, but all tend to suppress appetite by inhibiting neurotransmitters in the brain (Morelli and Chang).  Yet, some pills are not prescribed and unmonitored use can lead to dangerous side-effects (Morelli and Chang). Most over-the-counter dieting pills are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, given their herbal roots (Morelli and Chang). Some of these herbal supplements include the popular Garcinia Cambodia, a fruit from Southeast Asia (Morelli and Chang). The hydroxycitric acid in the fruit speeds up metabolism, but it has been shown to have negative side-effects like seizures, liver damage and muscle damage (Morelli and Chang). While these supplements are not always harmful, they are not regulated and one should always speak to a doctor before considering a weight loss supplement.

As opposed to unhealthy dieting and weight loss programs, there are plenty of beneficial and healthier options for one to choose from. Since the rise of obesity and overweight proportions in the late 20th century were found to be the result of caloric increase, it is understandable that eating less calories each day would be a healthy solution (Cutler et al. 104). Reducing calories is the most common practice in attempting to lose weight and there are many ways to accomplish this (Kruger 402). When I began my weight loss journey through seeing and working with a nutritionist, the first step in this journey was to assess my metabolism. Each individual has a different resting metabolism, and it was determined that on average each day I burn about 1,650 calories. Thus, my nutritionist suggested I consume around 1,500 calories daily to reduce weight. By monitoring the calories I ate, I could reduce my body fat ratio. However, this practice is not easy for everyone. Calorie-counting consists of hyper-scrutiny on consumption, and it can be exhausting. Other ways to reduce calories is monitoring portion control and maintaining a balanced plate during each meal of the day and during snacks. Another healthy way to reduce body fat is to exercise frequently – at least 150 minutes of exercise a week is recommended per week (Kruger 105). As many may know, when one exercise they first burn calories. After calories have been burned, the body turns to fats and carbohydrates for energy (Oaklander and Jones). The more frequent one exercises, the better the body gets at metabolizing fat cells as energy (Oaklander and Jones). The combination of diet change and exercise is the simplest and healthiest way to lose weight. However, this option is typically less desirable because results are slow. This leads decisive Americans to become entranced by quick, easy solutions like supplements or behavioral methods which can be harmful to one’s health.

When choosing a weight loss option, it is important to think about the success at the end of the journey. In the past 30 or 40 years, what is considered “normal” in terms of body image has stayed the same. When any American turned on the television or exposed themselves to advertising of any type, the “normal” American presented would be slim. Only in the modern age has this slightly changed. Advertisers are more body-conscious and represent a greater diversity of people. However, the extent of this consciousness is not very broad and there still exists a need to conform to the past’s normal body image. I feel as though this has altered the perspective on weight loss. While it is easy to be less concerned about how others view oneself, it is not quite as easy to be unconcerned about one’s health, as obesity raises the risk of a number of health concerns. Losing weight healthfully should also be a goal for those who are obese or on the verge of obesity. Choosing body-positive and healthy programs is the first step on the journey of weight loss.



Works Cited

Cutler, David M., et al. “Why have Americans Become More Obese?” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 17, no. 3, 2003, pp. 93-118, ABI/INFORM Global; Health Management Database; Research Library: Business; Social Science Database, https://login.proxy189.nclive.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212097021?accountid=15152.

Hankey, C. R., W. S. Leslie, and M. E. J. Lean. “Why Lose Weight? Reasons for Seeking Weight Loss by Overweight but Otherwise Healthy Men.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Disorders, vol. 26, no. 6, 2002, pp. 880-882, ProQuest Central, https://login.proxy189.nclive.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/219224790?accountid=15152, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0801999.

Kruger, Judy, et al. “Attempting to Lose Weight.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 402–406., doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2004.02.001.

Morelli, Jim, and Louise Chang. “Weight Loss Drugs Prescription and OTC by RxList.com.” RxList, RxList, Inc., www.rxlist.com/weight_loss_medications/drugs-condition.htm#loss. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017. 

 “Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.” National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016, p. 200.

Oaklander, Mandy, and Heather Jones. “Fitness: The Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise.” Time, 1 Sept. 2016, time.com/4474874/exercise-fitness-workouts/.

Oellingrath, Inger M., et al. “Gender-Specific Association of Weight Perception and Appearance Satisfaction with Slimming Attempts and Eating Patterns in a Sample of Young Norwegian Adolescents.” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 19, no. 2, 2016, pp. 265-274, ProQuest Central, https://login.proxy189.nclive.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1759325983?accountid=15152, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1368980015001007.

“Overweight & Obesity Statistics.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oct. 2012, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.