The Need for Accountability Regarding America’s Obesity Crisis
The rates of obesity in the western world continue to skyrocket. Body-positive movements do a great deed by raising awareness that a person’s body size doesn’t correlate with their worth. However, the fact remains that much unnecessary illness and suffering results from our addiction to consuming mass quantities. It’s time we take a closer look at the role of societal accountability in sustaining the obesity epidemic.
Understand — examining the social factors underlying obesity rates aims not to assign blame to individuals. This is not an article about shaming heavier individuals, but instead, one that aims to address a widespread epidemic that the National Institutes of Health has deemed a public health crisis. Such inquiries seek to identify the elements in our media and society that make healthy eating such a struggle for many. Hectic modern lives paired with decreased feelings of power and fulfillment, and mixed media messages, fuel the obesity epidemic far more than an overabundance of food.
Starving in the Land of Plenty
Many people have divorced the physical feeling of hunger from the drive to eat for so long, they have transformed food from mere nourishment to something signifying at least a temporary break from the demands of daily life. And that’s something many Americans sorely need — less than half take all the vacation days they’ve earned and those who do take time off often end up working while away from their desks.
Ironically, Americans also spend less time eating than those in other developed nations. Why, then, are we so much heavier on average? Part of the reason may lie in the amount of time spent on the clock. While officially, only around five percent of the population claims to work more than one job, many who moonlight may not receive a separate W2 come tax time. That doesn’t mean they aren’t spending their evenings and weekends working.
Sadly, many exhausted parents also find it far simpler to soothe a restless child with a trip through the McDonald’s drive thru rather than preparing them a healthy after-school snack at home. And thus, the new generation learns the practice of stuffing down uncomfortable emotions with unhealthy food.
Maybe what Americans hunger for most doesn’t come on a plate or in a paper sack. Maybe it’s time with family, time to recover from the endless grind, time to be and to dream.
Looking for Joy in a Boxed Meal
As much as public health may benefit, the pace of American society is unlikely to undergo a deep-sea change anytime soon. How, then, to overcome the sweet siren song of easy calories streaming from every TV and computer screen? How to manage the daily commute with its view of 10 or more drive thru chains promising at least a facsimile of a break, a reward for hard work well done?
The urge to eat high calorie foods is instinctively rewarding; were it not, humans would not have survived and evolved. That urge, though, now threatens to harm, not help.
Further complicating the issue of obesity in America is the relative price of healthy foods versus their less nutrient-rich yet calorie-dense kin. Although making healthier eating choices would cost the average person an extra $500 to $600 per year, many citizens lack that much disposable income. People also often need more time than they have available to cook a good meal.
Fighting the Root Causes of the Epidemic
So, what can all of us do to help our society be collectively healthier? Employers can allow their staff members flexible and telecommuting options whenever possible. In a time when many benefits packages have shrunk, giving employees back more time in their day costs little but can reap substantial benefits in terms of health outcomes and overall team morale.
Additionally, employers can bring back the hour-long lunch break. When staff feels rushed, they often reach for the easiest, and usually the unhealthiest, meal option. Conversely, those who enjoy longer, more leisurely breaks perform more productively on the clock. Parents can make the extra effort to choose healthier snacks for their kids, and schools can revamp the home economics class. They may even go one step further and take a lesson from across the Pacific. At many Japanese schools, students enjoy a healthy lunch — one that they cook themselves to boot. Teaching healthy eating habits in childhood proves far easier than trying to break a junk food addiction as an adult.
Additionally, everyone can do their part to call on those in our media to produce more responsible food advertising to young people. If we are going to fix this problem, we need to get ahead of some of its most powerful causes.
Toward a Healthier Future
Jam-packed schedules paired with an abundance of easy but high calorie food options has damaged public health significantly. Fortunately, it’s not too late to get people back in the kitchen to prep healthier meals. The more we can celebrate togetherness, the healthier we will hopefully become.