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Who is responsible for the rise in obesity?

Harold Mandel's picture
An obese woman

The catastrophic rise in obesity across the United States and worldwide has been making headlines. Obesity is associated with a myriad of physical and emotional problems which can be life threatening. It appears modern lifestyles with too much junk food and not enough exercise are largely to blame, and yet who is actually responsible for things going this far wherein the overall health of the entire human species is at risk from obesity?

Researchers sought to determine who it is the public perceives of as being most responsible for the rise in obesity, reported the journal Appetite. The researchers also wanted to identify the determinants for such perceptions. They conducted a nationwide survey of 800 U.S. individuals. The respondents were asked in regard to three categories, primarily, somewhat, and not to blame for the rise in obesity, to list the following seven entities:

1: Food manufacturers

2: Grocery stores

3: Restaurants

4: Government policies

5: Farmers

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6: Individuals

7: Parents

Eighty percent of the respondents said individuals were primarily to blame for the catastrophic rise in obesity. Parents were noted to be the next-most blameworthy group, with 59% ascribing them primary blame.

Fast food restaurants have been hit with a great deal of the blame for the rise in obesity in the United States, but questions have been raised regarding the validity of this blame, reports College of Aces on Jan. 22, 2014. The research survey, which was conducted by two food economists, has revealed that most people believe that individuals are to blame for their own obesity, not restaurants, grocery stores, farmers, or government policies.

An implication which has arisen from this research is that creating and enforcing public policies to help lower obesity and/or to encourage healthier food choices may not be as effective as policy makers would like to think. Brenna Ellison, a researcher at the University of Illinois, has explained that she and her colleague, Jayson Lusk at Oklahoma State University, have both been interested in the effectiveness of different food policies. However, previous research has shown many of the food policies which are designed to improve food choices, such as requiring calorie information on restaurant menus and taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, do not always produce the results which are intended. Questions have arisen as to why these policies are meeting with failure.

Ellison has said, “Obesity is in the news every day so it would be hard to say that people are unaware of the policy initiatives in place to reduce U.S. obesity rates.” Ellison takes the position that a more likely conclusion is that the beliefs of consumers do not necessarily align themselves with the beliefs of policy makers and public health advocates. We like to think of the United States as an individualistic based society, and so it’s not really surprising that we would put this responsibility for obesity on ourselves.

The online survey used for this survey was administered by Clear Voice Research whose registry of panelists is said to be representative of the U.S. population in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, gender, and region. The survey responders took the position that farmers and grocery stores were relatively blameless for the upsetting rise in obesity. The researchers found that farmers and people who received food stamps were more likely to blame government and farm policy for this problem. The researchers were surprised by this, feeling that opinion would not be expected from people who are benefiting from those policies. However, it appears these individuals may be in the best position to observe the potential harm which some government policies create.

This is an interesting evaluation of the problem of determining who is ultimately responsible for the obesity epidemic. Although it is fair enough to say that individuals should take some of the responsibility for this problem, I also perceive of other factors which should be evaluated in more depth. In particular placing the blame primarily on the individual does not seem fair to me when you give consideration to literal forms of brainwashing by aggressive marketers of junk food and the offering of junk food which is literally addicting.

However, it does make sense for people on food stamps to blame government policies for this serious problem, because most of these people appear to feel strained economic conditions due to government policies have pushed them into the welfare system wherein they can hardly afford to buy as much healthy food as they would like. What we therefore come up with is that the problem of obesity has multidimensional causes, all of which should be taken into account in efforts to deal more effectively with obesity. The problem begins in childhood with childhood obesity being at epidemic levels and needing better intervention, as I have reported upon in a separate article for EmaxHealth.



I cannot imagine why it matters, aside from some esoteric medical reasons that should only be between a patient and her doctor. Live and let live.
Seems it's a perfect storm of events fueled by a variety of factors, don't you think?