Today in the world there is a growing trend of obesity. The United States is already one of the most obese countries on this earth and is quickly rising ever so higher on the list. From a survey conducted by the World Health Organization over a span of eight years (2000-2008) the US ranks at third in the most obese countries ranking only behind two very smaller pacific island nations with populations less than hundred-thousand people each. When taking into the account of the 66.7% of the United State’s 307,006,550 people that results in 204,773,369 being obese that is more than a thousand times more people than both those islands have people (don’t believe me look up their populations combine them and do the math or let Google do it for you!). That means that two out of every three people are obese, that means out you and your two friends two of you could be obese. It is a proven epidemic that is circulating the globe and hitting us hard here at home. It is shown to have a number of health concerns associated with it such as heart disease, liver and kidney diseases, several types of cancers and premature death and the list can still go on from there. But what determines if a person is obese, well there is equations to find it (like everything else in the world) which is where you take your weight and multiply it by 703 and then divide it by your height in inches squared and you get your body mass index or BMI. Then to determine whether you are overweight or not you compare your BMI to the ranges.
Instead of looking at the health concerns associated with obesity I chose to take a different direction with my research. I wanted to look at the social and societal effects of obesity and how it affects us. These two things are very closely related (the words even look alike) and something related to one can affect the other. For example, Facebook the world’s biggest social networking website with over 500 hundred million active users has proven to have many affects on society such as how people interact, jobs, and even political matters. Presidential Campaigns are steadily increasing their use of social networks when campaigning.
Now let us bring our focus back on obesity and look at the social effects of it. Obesity isn’t just an epidemic hazardous to our health it also has a lot of mental, emotional, and social repercussions associated with it. According to Reuters Health people who are obese have a greater risk of falling into depression another health concern of this country. People who are obese suffer from low self-esteem and can estrange themselves from others because of their weight. Women who are normally very self conscious of their personal image and can have low self-esteem tend to even have lower views of themselves when they are overweight. This can lead to them turning to anorexia or bulimia just so that they can slim down.
In a study by The New England Journal of Medicine that was published in the New York Times obesity can be spread from person to person. Researchers are finding trends in groups of people who are close friends finding that when one person gains weight their close friends also gain weight. This study was conducted from 1971-2003 of a social network of 12,067 people. The study showed that friends are the biggest influence when it comes to weight gain and if a friend became over weight you had a 57 percent higher chance of becoming obese and if it was a close mutual friend your chances rose to 171 percent to become obese. It also had the same effect of on weight loss but since weight has been increasing over the past century most people grew fatter. In a quote from Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis who is a physician and professor of medical sociology at the prestigious Harvard Medical School on why there is an influence among friends and obesity said ”You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you”.
It can start to look like a pyramid effect one person grows obese than two of their friends also gain weight and two of each of their friends and so forth resulting in an ever growingly higher obesity rate.
This warrants friends to watch each other’s weight and keep each other motivated to stay fit but can also warrant such things as alienating the “fat friend” and hanging out with them less. This will be more of an occurrence with female groups though who have higher concerns about what they and their friends look like but it isn’t limited to just them as guys can feel the same also. Also inversely the “fat friend” may alienate themselves from the group as they suffer from low self esteem when comparing themselves to their friends.
Obesity has other social effects than just on your friends, it can result in discrimination and lack of romantic connections due to stereotypes of obesity. Obesity stereotypes tend to focus on that the person who is overweight is a lazy and gluttonous person which leads many people to think the same about every person who is obese. There are several reasons one may be obese such as jobs that require sitting for long periods of time of the day and over the span of the week which leaves little physical activity. This tends to be higher in office settings where there is a high volume of people sitting in a cubicle for long periods of the day working in front of a computer. But there tends to be more discrimination towards overweight people when it comes to finding and obtaining a job due to these stereotypes. In a paper from the University of Hawaii – Honolulu entitled Weight Discrimination: The Effects of Obesity on Employment they looked at some of the reasons there is discrimination of overweight people when it came to jobs. One such example written is “Image” the presence of say a obese salesman can lead to perceptions that the company is less successful and the negative connotation from that salesman can spread to others working with him. They also state that employers are conscious that customers are less likely to buy from an “ugly” salesman.
Now that we have looked at how obesity affects the individual lets zoom out a bit and look out how it affects us together as a society. As stated above over half of the United States is obese and with no proven way of stopping the growth of obesity it is just going to steadily rise. The number of people who are obese is almost equal to the amount of people who are starving. Just twenty years ago their wasn’t a single state who had an obesity rate of 20%, today though however almost every state has an obesity rate closing in on 30% or more. With the growing amount of overweight Americans, there have been numerous changes to our society to accommodate the epidemic of obesity. Many things are starting to be built bigger in order to cater to the larger consumers where the smaller sizes won’t do. These are done not only for overweight people’s convenience but also for their safety.
Through all of this we are still neglecting ways to change institutions within society to stem obesity. McDonalds opens around 1200 locations every year according to their annual report, which is a new McDonalds popping up somewhere every 7.2 hours. It is for this reason that we are being given so many varieties in the food we are able to consume. Across the US there are a number of organic grocery stores sprouting up to fight against high amounts of sugars and fats and other chemicals used in our food. But are these organic options really much better for you or are they just a con that has come out of the obesity epidemic fooling people; well from an article in The Mirror that takes a look at a study done by researches from Cornell they have found that just labeling something “Organic” tricks the brain into thinking that it taste better and is even healthier. It is the same idea as people get when they look at an attractive person and think they are intelligent. They put this theory to test with a study of 150 people who had to compare what they thought was organic and non-organic when in reality they were all the same, the study resulted in people describing food they thought was organic as tasting much better and containing less calories. Could what seems to be a revolution of the grocery industry really just be one big con on us?
Food though isn’t the only thing being changed in our society as stated above there are several things starting to be built bigger than ever before. One of them being our public transportation, our everyday buses are on the verge of changing. The average scale they used per person was 150 pounds but recently there has been a proposal to increase that to 175 pounds person to better represent our population. What does this mean? Well it means that fewer people will be allowed to ride on a single bus and that buses be become a few inches wider as well to add more floor space to them. Crash test dummies are also on the verge of being changed, those crash dummies you saw in those commercials back 10 years ago aren’t representing our population as well as they used to. From an article off of the news site Good the whole change was brought up when a 50lb four year was killed in a car crash when her seat belt failed. This incident shows the reality of today is that even our children are suffering from obesity as well and changes have to be made to accommodate them as well.
Another large part of our society is clothing; almost everyone is concerned with how they look or what they wear and even what the latest style is. Just three years ago a woman’s size 14 at the Gap fit someone with a 37-inch bust, 29-inch waist and 39-inch hips, now a size 14 measures as a 37.5-inch bust, a 29.5-inch waist, and 40-inch hips. That change in an inch or less adds around 10-20lbs more that could fit in that size. Retail stores also know this and know how woman’s mind works as they know they want to think of themselves fitting in the smaller sizes so they increase the measurements of the sizes to boost their feelings so they keep buying clothes. Another fun fact, a size 4 today was a size 8 two decades ago, which is a perfect example of manufacturers adapting to the growing weight sizes of people so that they are able to still turn profit. Woman aren’t the only ones who have had to up their wardrobe though in the past decade even Jolly Old Saint Nicholas our fun, loving, and overweight icon of Christmas as had to add a couple more notches to hit belt. The largest Santa Suit in 1996 was a 2X at Santasuits.com which were a little below 12 percent of their total sales but today the company now offers 4X and higher accounting to a third of their sales. Maybe we need to start cutting back on the cookies we leave back and start giving him a salad and some V8 juice instead.
Another example of where bigger is not better comes with death, morbid I know but still relative. Coffins are starting to be sold whose dimensions are reaching up to 54 inches wide, which is twice the size of a standard coffin. A coffin company called Goliath Casket started making triple-wide caskets in the 1980s that can hold up to 700 pounds but they averaged only one a year compared to current times where they ship out more than half a dozen a month. The caskets thought aren’t the only thing being built bigger from a Youtube video about some of the changes Sweden has had to go through to accommodate the growing size of the population they have to build their incinerators bigger to cremate the larger bodies as well. But there have been other changes in Sweden as well such as a MRI machine that isn’t the standard tunnel design as larger people are unable to fit in them. (If you’re interested in the video you can watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wg9t6ykTMVw).
Where has our civilization been going wrong in the past couple decades, our health is in a steady decline as our weights are in a steady incline. The blame cannot be attributed to one source such as fatty and high sugar foods, technology, or even our own degradation of our physical activity. Our civilization is changing all around us and unless we start finding ways to fight our growing bad habits that are resulting in our obesity our stunningly beautiful models and actors we all look up to could soon become all plus sized influences. Our world will split be split between the hungry and starving and the overweight and obese. So the next time you’re out for a walk (which is exercise, stress relieving, and relaxing. You should try it!) Take a look around you and look at how obesity is changing the world around YOU.