America’s obesity and weight management problems have plagued health practitioners for decades. More recently, however, these same problems have been the subject of much interest among social scientists who were compelled to look at obesity as a social and cultural phenomenon. Apparently, obesity among Americans is not only a health problem but a “growing” social and cultural problem as well, affecting approximately 30 percent of the population. (Seiders & Petty, 2004) Indeed, larger waistlines are becoming the ubiquitous signs of American culture, along with fastfood chains that connote unhealthy eating habits and overeating.
Despite the dire health consequences arising from higher cholesterol levels and increased risk to cardiovascular diseases, the majority of America’s citizens keep gaining weight, in what seems to be a drive to make obesity the norm rather than the exception.
Unfortunately, the obesity phenomenon is but a symptom of greater problems besetting American society. Freund and Martin (2005) notes that the problem is inextricably linked to patterns of hyperconsumption and unsustainable consumerist attitudes.
The authors contend that hyperconsumption is mainly characterized by the compression in space and time while at the same time increasing the intensity in consumption. (p. 4) It thus comes without surprise that McDonald’s supersized meal orders have become synonymous with American consumerism as the fast food culture encourages overeating despite time and space constraints for the consuming public. (Ritzer, 2000)
Unhealthy lifestyle choices have therefore come to define the American way of life, centered on unhealthy consumption patterns, lack of activity and exercise, and overexposure to giant food companies’ marketing ploys through the mass media. Generation after generation of Americans are born and raised to become obese individuals, as Pollan (2007) observes that food companies manage to influence the consumption values of even young children through careful advertisement targeting. It is safe to assume that these values and patterns of consumption will be cemented early and have an effect later in these children’s lives. Early conditioning among children of unhealthy, heavily processed, food choices almost insures that these would become part of individual habit that would be difficult to change later on.
Clearly, the effects of obesity not only on individuals but on society as a whole should be a cause for concern. Aside from the obvious health-related risks that being overweight poses on individuals such as heart and cardiovascular problems, the indirect costs in terms of financial distress and counterproductivity must be accounted for. Likewise, the effects of weight management problems on the psychosocial well-being and social functioning of individuals cannot be underestimated.
Ironically, increasing obesity serves to reinforce consumerist attitudes wherein a burgeoning slimming industry has appeared by taking advantage of America’s growing collective insecurity and poor body image. Desparate to lose weight, Americans are led to more consumption, this time of fad diets and slimming pills that promise miracles and often have serious side effects.
Thus, obesity is not only symptomatic of America’s dysfunctional attitude towards consumption. It is a poor reflection on the entire American culture that an increasing majority of its members are seen as lacking in control or having poor eating habits and inadequate nutrition information inspite of the huge sum of money that the government spends for health promotion.
Freund, P. & G. Martin (2005). Fast cars/fast foods: Hyperconsumerism and its health and environmental consequences. New Jersey: Montclaire State University. Downloaded on 12/16/07 from www.cnsjournal.org<http://www.cnsjournal.org/documents/cns1fast2.pdf >
Seiders, K. & R.D. Petty (2004). Obesity and the role of food marketing: A policy analysis of issues and remedies. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 23(2): 153-169.
Pollan, Michael. The Way We Live Now: You are What You Grow. The New York Times, April 22, 2007.
Ritzer, G. (2000). The McDonaldization of Society. California: Pine Forge.