Confronting Obesity in America


by John Means

Amidst the varied healthcare issues confronting America Obesity seems to get a good deal of attention, but nobody seems to have any real solutions on the table. Sure, there are a bunch of feel good messages, insurance incentives, health clubs and medical reports all encouraging people to live healthier, but they seem to have little or no impact on this developing social crisis.

There are innumerable contributing factors to this problem including; T.V./Video Games, poor eating habits at home, lack of Physical Education in schools, convenience of technology, busy schedules, medication/drug use, and let us not forget plain old laziness. Any attempt to confront these factors individually is quite pointless and, with our track record of the last century, will likely result in a sadly ironic outcome that will exacerbate the problem; a la War on Drugs. So how do we confront this issue and expect real results? To answer that, let us consider other social health concerns that we have wrestled as a Nation and consider the techniques used to address it, as well as the result.

Society seems to have taken on a general distaste for cigarette smoking and each year we find less and less people lighting up. Drunk Driving has also experienced a steep decline in America, the result of a widely publicized campaign to save people’s lives. One could argue that it is a culmination of the many diverse strategies employed to alter public opinion, and there is some truth to that, but not in the sense we generally accept.

Have higher taxes on cigarettes and stiffer penalties for D.W.I curbed the problems? Nope, smokers keep buying and there are thousands of idiots with multiple Drunk Driving Arrests.

Have huge awareness campaigns brought new and vital information to light that change individual opinions? Nope, people seem to accept the risks as a function of living and always believe they have time to change.

Such is the Nature of Man; and it is exploited with calculated efficiency by Industry and Government around the globe, which is at the root of the problem. Billions of Dollars are spent on marketing research to drive consumer impulse purchasing, and Billions more garnered in Taxes, not to mention the Billions in Profits generated and jobs attached. Truthfully, only the private citizen has anything to gain from living safer and healthier lives, and since there are Billions to be made there as well, you can guarantee Marketing and Regulation are priorities.

What techniques have been successful in thwarting anti-social behavior? Well, more important than any amount of education or regulation is the fact that these activities are just not ‘Cool’ anymore. When it comes to smoking and drinking respectively, groups like M.A.D.D. and have made more headway with guilt trips and social manipulation than any amount of research or data has ever accomplished. Evidently health risks and death are of less concern than fitting in with the crowd.

It wasn’t social engineering alone that accomplished this paradigm shift though; it did require legislation to effect change, which came in the form of advertising restrictions on alcohol and tobacco products. Not just billboards and sponsored sporting events, but the television and cinematic portrayals as well. No longer does the father of the family sitcom have a martini every time he walks in the house. No more are the Camel Grand Prix Races. Talk show hosts no longer smoke through interviews, and beautiful models no longer pose with cigarettes.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

If we want to make people healthy, we don’t need to try to mandate it directly, as this has been shown to be ineffective time and time again. The answer is much simpler when put in context….

Stop trying to MAKE people fat!

Seriously, when after a long, hard day at work or a stressful personal problem you show me a big steaming burger dripping with cheese and cholesterol, or display the dark arts of drizzling caramel over chocolate…… Perhaps some can resist, but not I.

Sure, we all make our own choices and only we can be accountable for our actions, but when dealing with such a hefty social problem (pun intended) we really need to consider the impact of irresponsible advertising practices, as we have in the past.

The U.S. spent more than $147 Billion on obesity related health problems last year, and that is a just drop in the bucket next to the consumer revenues generated in Junk Food Sales which caused the problem. With that much money to be generated on every side of this issue, you can be sure any lasting solution will be cumbersome, expensive and painfully slow in coming. Health may have some profit potential, but Death is the most lucrative commodity in history.

Why change a system that works?

Here’s the bottom line; if you want to make America healthier, stop rubbing junk food in our faces.

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