The Obesity Epidemic

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It doesn’t seem to matter what newspaper or website you look at these days, there is bound to be a story involving someone who is morbidly obese. The morality of awarding the ‘honour’ of the fattest man/woman/teenager aside, the general population is certainly much fatter now than in previous decades, with a staggering 35% of American (and Scottish) children being officially classed as overweight or obese. You don’t have to be long in the average western town or city to be aware that fat people, and especially children, are definitely increasing in number.

The causes of this obesity epidemic are many and no one thing is at its root. Although the world is officially in a recession, food is still cheap by comparison with previous decades. As a rough estimate, the amount spent on food in a typical American household went down from 22% in the middle of the last century to 7% at the beginning of this one, meaning that far more disposable income is available to spend on refined foods – more usually called ‘junk’. These foods are typically made up of more sugars and fats and make a person overweight very quickly.

Ironically, the obsession with dieting in recent times has also created an obese society. Dieting often and for short periods – often called yo-yo dieting – using unsustainable eating plans only worsens the situation. The dieter goes on a very strict diet, such as the cabbage soup or grapefruit diet, which doesn’t provide enough nutrition even in the short term. In almost all cases, this results in craving, bingeing and a net weight gain, which is depressing, especially after a few weeks on cabbage soup and so the dieter, a few months on, ends up heavier than before the diet began. If this is repeated only once a year, it doesn’t take long for the weight to pile on.

Exercise is also a factor in maintain a healthy weight and is something which few people nowadays take seriously. Rather like the crash yo yo dieting, people take up jogging or pay out for gym membership, which results in pulled hamstrings, aches and pains and similar minor injuries which smack of ‘failure’ causing comfort eating and even less exercise. It is a fallacy recently borne out by research that exercising using a wii can help reduce weight and increase fitness. People are lulled into a false sense of exercise taken by the exertions of their avatar – tests involving people using a wii and those sitting still on the sofa proves no benefits given by the game.

Children in particular take a fraction of the exercise than their peers fifty years ago. Much of this is common sense, as roads and society in general get less safe for children, but parents should take the future health of their children – and themselves – into their hands and provide healthier diets and more exercise opportunities. This is the first adult generation who are likely to outlive their children – this is an epidemic which must be taken seriously and stopped.

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