Is the Fast Food Industry Responsible for the Obesity Epidemic in America?

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Christopher J Hansen
February 12, 2012
Is the Fast Food Industry Responsible for the Obesity Epidemic in America?
Obesity is defined as the condition of being excessively fat or overweight. The distinction between being obese and being overweight is determined by a weight-to-height ratio known as the Body Mass Index (or BMI). This ratio is calculated by dividing one's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters, which results in a number typically between 15 and 40. In the United States any BMI that exceeds 30 is considered obese, while a BMI above 25 is considered overweight. To be underweight, one’s BMI must be below 18.5, so anywhere between 18.6 and 24.9 is considered healthy. In 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) announced that every single state in America had an obesity rate above 20%, and twelve states even exceeded 30%. America is not only the land of the free, but the land of the fat as well. More than a third of American adults and 17% of children are obese. This staggering figure is the result of what the US government has deemed a nationwide epidemic. An epidemic is defined as a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease or undesirable phenomena. The tale of America’s obesity epidemic begins in 1975, when the adult obesity rate was just below 15%. By 1995 the rate had risen to more than 23% and in 2010 it reached 33.8%. Just 21 years ago there was not a single state with an obesity rate above 20%, yet last year there was not a single state with an obesity rate below 20%. American citizens spend more on health care than any other industrialized country; likely a result of the fact that 74.6% of adults are either overweight or obese. According to the Frequently Asked Questions page of the CDC’s website, “in the United States approximately 112,000 deaths a year are associated with obesity”. Obesity causes a number of diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, gallbladder disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, arthritis, stroke, physical disability, breathing problems, and lower back pain. The Frequently Asked Questions page also states that, “Seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are chronic diseases, the top two being heart disease and cancer. Mortality is an important indicator of the severity of a public health problem, because many chronic diseases are affected by obesity.” Individuals with obesity need to realize that the duration and quality of their lifespan hinges upon the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. If the obese population understood that their excess weight will eventually affect their overall well-being, they would be much more committed to losing weight. Many individuals have chosen to neglect a healthy lifestyle and obesity has flourished as a result. The epidemic has increased at such an alarming rate that it has aroused concern from our nation’s disease prevention agency. My research conducted on the CDC’s database left me with a single question: why has the prevalence of obesity increased so much in such a short period of time? I found the most straightforward answer to this question by examining the underlying cause of weight gain. In a Food Science course I took a few semesters ago I learned that an increase in weight occurs when the amount of calories utilized in a day does not exceed the amount of calories consumed that same day. The more calories we take in, the more active we must be to burn them off. Dr. Jeffry Weiss, head of the Insulite Laboratories Medical Advisory Board, has concluded that, “In the 1960's, men consumed an average of 2,200 calories per day, but by 2000 that figure had increased to 2,700 calories per day. During the same period, women went from 1,500 to 1,950 calories per day” (Weiss “Why We Eat”). The level of physical activity in America did not increase as vigorously as our calorie intake, so the average weight of Americans went up. For...
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