To say that obesity is caused by merely consuming too many calories, is like saying that the only cause of the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party,” said nutritionist and health pioneer Adelle Davis. Indeed, the problem of obesity in America may also be reflected upon from a political, social, and economic perspective.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity in the African-American population, and a 21 percent higher prevalence in the Hispanic population when compared with whites. It’s no coincidence that African-Americans and Hispanics make up a large portion of American’s poor either; poverty and obesity go hand in hand in the United States.
Marion Neslte, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University says, “States with the highest obesity rates are in the rural south where poverty, especially rural poverty, is a huge problem.”
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, publicly announced that, “our government has done virtually nothing” about the problems surrounding obesity. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s subsidy program compensates farmers for growing crops such as soybeans and corn – the main components in making the sugary and fatty ingredients contained in cheap, accessible food (e.g. high fructose corn syrup). Junk food is choc-full of subsidized components, which is why it’s much cheaper to buy Twinkies and soda than fruit and vegetables.
Dr. Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington found that food produced from subsidized crops such as the Twinkies and soda types, cost about five times less per calorie than unsubsidized foods like broccoli and apples. Of course, in the end, the Twinkies and soda are likely to be quite an expense when one considers that obesity often leads to expensive health problems like heart disease. And not only do poor people struggle to afford whole foods – they often lack any type of healthcare.
According to a 2009 Families USA’s Minority Health Initiative report based on the 2008 U. S. census, minorities make up approximately 35 percent of the population – yet they account for nearly 55 percent of the uninsured population.
In a lecture at Dartmouth College last January, Dr. Walter Royal, a University of Maryland neurology professor, discussed the disparate relationship between whites’ and minorities’ income, education, and healthcare access, noting that by 2050 racial minorities will outnumber the white population. In addition to the inequalities in education, income, and healthcare coverage, which lead to an increased likelihood of obesity in racial minorities, obesity itself compounds the social challenges minorities face. It seems that the stigmatization of obesity is a cultural phenomenon that is ingrained in Americans from a young age.
According to the University of Hawaii’s Journal of Academic Writing, research conducted on children as young as six-years-old revealed that even very young people relate obesity with laziness, filth, and stupidity. Not surprisingly, as children grow into adults, this social discrimination creeps into the workplace. Studies on obesity discrimination in the workplace find that stereotypes linked with obesity (e.g. laziness), along with employer considerations with regard to the importance of image, insurance costs, the risk of health conditions that could lead to absence from the workplace, and the inability of an obese person to perform physical tasks were cited as reasons why one would not hire an obese person.
Returning to Davis’ comment about the simplification of the obesity problem in America – with a closer look at the political, economic, and social climate in America, it becomes apparent that there is a wide range of contributing factors that need to be addressed.
MSN, Obesity in America 2010, http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100261061
US PIRG, http://www.uspirg.org/issues/toxics-public-health/stop-subsidizing-obesity
University of Hawaii Journal on Academic Writing, http://www.uhh.hawaii.edu/academics/hohonu/writing.php?id=111
The Dartmouth, http://thedartmouth.com/2011/01/28/news/health
The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Obesity: Special Feature, http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/content/full/89/6/2590
Obesity and Poverty, http://www.docshop.com/2007/11/20/obesity-and-poverty-examining-the-link