Fewer Americans Care About Being Overweight
As of 2014, two out of every three Americans is overweight or obese. That's right, 66% of Americans tip the scales into the unhealthy territory and the trend upward is continuing. By now, everyone should know about the risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and biomechanical dysfunction and degeneration that comes with weight gain. But, it seems that rather than doing something to try to rectify the situation, being overweight or obese is becoming normalized.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 7/March/2017) shows that even though more people are overweight and obese, fewer are trying to lose weight. In 1988, 56% of overweight and obese individuals reported that they had attempted to lose weight during the previous year while in 2014, only 49% reported attempts to do so. There are a variety of reasons for this drop in the number of people who are attempting to lose weight, but as already mentioned, the most prevalent reason seems to be social normalization.
The social normalization of overweight and obesity has increased dramatically over the past few decades. As the number of overweight and obese people has increased, the novelty or uniqueness of larger body sizes has been reduced. In other words, we become more used to seeing and interacting with overweight and obese people and thus it becomes more socially acceptable. And as it becomes more socially acceptable, heavier people begin to be more accepting of their weight and less inclined to do anything about it. Additionally, as children grow up in families beset with overweight and obesity, they think that such body sizes and the root causes of overeating, poor nutritional choices and a sedentary lifestyle are normal. This inter-generational element is perhaps the most alarming as it portends a future where the majority of the population is afflicted with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. From a simple economic perspective, the lost productivity and increased health care costs to treat such a population is moving toward the astronomical. From a human perspective, the loss of quality of life, the increase in disease and the shortening of lifespans is incredibly troubling.
What is to be done?
What can be done to change trend away from overweight and obesity? The first thing to do to reduce increase of overweight and obesity is to prevent weight gain in the first place. While many on the political right abhor the concept of the "nanny state," it is abundantly clear that we cannot rely on overweight or obese parents to teach and direct their children to eat appropriately and engage in strenuous physical (playful) activities. Much like the anti-tobacco campaigns that have helped reduce the incidence of smoking, anti-obesity campaigns must be put in place if we are to be successful. We must turn the trend away from the normalization of overweight and obesity, and the only way to do that is through a concerted and coordinated effort in the schools, media, and public policy.