Obesity is defined as the excessive accumulation of fat in the body, leading to an increased risk of health conditions. Obesity is medically diagnosed through the use of the body mass index (BMI). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity in adults is equivalent to a BMI equal to or greater than 30. At the same time, a BMI of 40 or above represents a case of severe obesity. In children aged 2-19, obesity is represented by a figure at or above the 95th percentile on the standard BMI chart.According to WHO statistics, in 2016, approximately 650 million adults were obese, representing about 13% of the world’s adult population. In addition, 340 million children aged 5-19 were also obese. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the US adult obesity rate in 2018 stood at 42.4 %. This represents a 12% increase in obesity rates from the 2000s illustrating the prevalence of the problem in society.Childhood obesity rates are also on the rise, where 19.3% of children aged 2-19 are obese.
Sociology of Knowledge
While many individuals focus on the immediate economic effects of obesity on a country’s growth and development, obesity as a social problem is largely ignored. Sadly, people diagnosed with obesity are exposed to emotional and social issues that undermine their perspectives towards life. From this observation, obesity is a social problem that subjects affected individuals to widespread discrimination, lower quality of life, and depression in extreme cases. Instead of responding to the visible consequences of the condition, health practitioners and researchers should develop viable approaches that influence the overall perspectives of individuals towards life. Viewing the condition as a social problem has multiple benefits that are influenced by the ability of individuals to focus on largely ignored effects of the health problem. This research paper explores the economic consequences of obesity in society.
Economic Consequences of Obesity in Society
Examining the above research question reveals various approaches that can be used to view obesity in the modern world. Firstly, obesity affects society by exposing individuals and their immediate family members to direct medical costs that are mostly higher than other conditions (Metzl and Anna). Obesity is linked with the increased risk of medical conditions such as diabetes type 2, coronary heart disease, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and arthritis. The increase in obesity rates leads to increased direct medical spending on diagnosis and treatment of the conditions. In 2016, direct medical costs associated with chronic conditions amounted to $480 billion. The direct medical costs are associated with both adults and children. In the US, the annual healthcare cost of childhood obesity is approximately $14billion. Besides, the risk of obesity in childhood progressing to adulthood implies future direct medical costs.
Secondly, countries and modern societies with a high population diagnosed with obesity encounter low production costs, w leads to slow growth and development. Employees considered obese or at risk for obesity are more likely to abscond work than fit employees. In addition, obese employees have high affinity to utilize paid time off than their counterparts. Obese employees also show an increase in lost productivity time due to physical and mental health conditions. Obesity also escalates disability payments and insurance premiums reflected in increased fiscal costs to the federal government in terms of Medicare and Medicaid. Obesity also leads to decreased productivity through premature mortality. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of premature death, where the risk increases with weight. According to research, every five units above a BMI of 25 kg/m2 leads to a 31% increase in premature death (Hammondand Ruth, 289). Obesity is a leading cause of morbidity and premature mortality worldwide
Thirdly, obesity drives up transportation costs due to the increasing need for more fuel to transport individuals from one place to another. This effect is directly witnessed in the economy by creating unnecessary demand for fuel instead of a context where people are willing to cycle or walk to work (Wadsworth and Philip 203). Fuel consumption is determined by weight, especially in auto and air transport; thus, an increased weight among passengers leads to higher fuel consumption. In addition, the weight factor leads to the use of larger vehicles to transport the same number of commuters leading to increased direct costs in the form of increased fuel spending. The indirect costs of fuel occur in the form of increased greenhouse gas emissions from the increase in food production needed to feed a population with a high-calorie intake.
Lastly, obesity has an adverse impact on educational attainment, which interferes with the cost of providing human capital to meet different elements that influence outcomes in the contemporary world. According to research, obesity leads to low self-esteem, lower-income, and higher poverty rates. In addition, obese students are less likely to complete higher grades as 3% are more likely to drop out or have a lower GPA than their fit counterparts, impacting the human capital accumulation related to educational attainment ((Hammondand Ruth, 293). Therefore, obesity is more of a social problem than a medical issue, which should be addressed to improve outcomes in contemporary society.
Social Construction of Obesity
In social constructivism, obesity can only be created by humans through the process of interaction. This interaction occurs through individuals who actively create the state of obesity as a correlational health issue. The social construction of obesity is achieved through the use of the theory of the moral entrepreneur. According to Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, the moral entrepreneur is defined as an individual, collection of people, or organization whose main ideology influences people to adopt or maintain a societal norm. Moral entrepreneurs are leaders in flagging a specific behavior or popularizing a particular action in society. They serve as the active agents of social control and deviance (Berger, Peter, and Thomas, 194). Moral entrepreneurs are divided into two categories; rule creators and rule enforcers. These two categories are further classified into creators, amplifiers, legitimators, supporters, enforcers, and entrepreneur selves.
Creators are primarily engaged in the discovery stage of the social construction of obesity. Creators are mostly scientists who are charged with defining and redefining the standard used to decide excess weight. Thus, the set benchmark leads to the definition of obesity as a social issue that exacerbates the prevalence of chronic diseases to reach a crisis point. The scientific practices of the creators are central to the social construction of obesity as a public health issue. The creators operate at macro and global social structures, preying on the fear of obesity among individuals. The social construction of obesity is created through patterns in a society, such as the definition of obesity as a social deviant, which are formed earlier by others and eventually repeated over time by those who follow. The social construction of obesity is thus dependent on the public labeling of obesity as a deviation. Although no scientist labeled being obese as a deviant, there is often rationalization of an individual’s data compared to a benchmark scale.
This rationalized approach is the body mass index (BMI). Creators typically aim at assisting those beneath them to achieve better status through collection and dissemination of knowledge such as BMI to help individuals know their risk of being obese (Monaghan, Robert, and Gary, 49). The creator’s practices are inseparable from commercial interests and organizational affiliations. The scientific practice relating to obesity is entangled with cultural, economic, and social values. The practices are also formulated to advance interests such as organization visibility and scientists’ professional status, which is influential in acquiring research investments. The desire for research funding leads to altering the rationalized BMI threshold to inflate the obesity rates.
Amplifiers generally refer to the media, which is responsible for characterizing social issues and reinforcing their importance. The media constructs obese moral agendas through sensationalizing, stereotyping, and reinforcing forecasts. Media coverage amplifies the issue through articles that inform people of various facts about obesity, thereby shaping their understanding. The amplifiers are responsible for framing the discussion and providing consultations regarding obesity to their audiences. However, the rate at which the media is manufacturing news relating to obesity leads to the creation of stereotypes since the amount of coverage does not conform to the scale of the issue. This disproportionality in media coverage is shown by the number of articles released on the subject of obesity.
The media amplifies obesity through carriers of moral panics such as shock headlines and reference to forecasts. This leads to increased perceived gravity of the obesity issue as a public health catastrophe. The media outlets’ interests are perceived to be reporting facts and scientific reviews. However, the media also airs obesity content for commercial reasons. The media engagements sensitive individuals regarding obesity, thus leading to increased debates on paid television. This is demonstrated by the plethora of talk shows and reality programs that peddle morality stories. Media content shows that obesity is deviant behavior, and the rational choice is slimming (Monaghan, Robert, and Gary, 51). In addition, the content forms a forum that seeks to frame the experiences of being obese. This media coverage of obesity clearly illustrates the development of obesity as a social epidemic.
The government serves as the ultimate adjudicator of what comprises a social public health concern. The government’s involvement regarding obesity illustrates the official sanctioning of the issue, and recommendations must be formulated. The government legitimizes the construction of obesity as a health issue by disseminating the known factors of obesity and the speculation of recommendations. The government gets involved in the social health issue by commissioning taskforces and reports on viable methods to tackle the issue. This includes mandatory BMI measurements especially directed to children. The government issues proposals to preclude the obesity disaster by providing funding to tackle the issue. This includes cash rewards or sponsoring charity conferences. This leads to an increased urge for lucrative government deals among the creators and amplifiers.
However, the government’s obesity as a public epidemic is limited since they are partly responsible for the issue. Moreover, when the government requires professional expertise on obesity, they also aim to balance the needs of different interest groups. These disparate groups includethe fitness sector, dieticians, the fast-food industry, and healthcare professionals. The dilemma is between the construction of a hyper-consumerism market or a healthy population. The construction of obesity as a social issue is impeded by government recognition that certain acts are an individual’s responsibility. The government thus shuns from hindering fast food industries and places the responsibility of healthy eating on citizens.
Supporters primarily react to media coverage and public reports, thus reinforcing or capitalizing on them. This includes reinforcing educational programs to the masses or manufacturing products labeled as prevention or solutions to the public health issue. There are two types of supporters; campaigners and opportunists. Campaigners publicize obesity and have a greater concern for people’s health, while the pursuit of profits greatly influences opportunists through exploiting the obese market through offering solutions (Monaghan, Robert, and Gary, 57). Campaigners publicize the issue through various channels such as media aiming to mobilize people into action. The mobilization aims to encourage people to lose weight, thus illustrating obesity as a correctable public health issue.
They also have vested economic interests since most campaigners are accorded publicity which they use for economic benefits. Opportunists’ primary aim is to make profits directly or indirectly. They use means such as developing healthy food products, opening gyms, selling weight-loss drugs, selling books about weight loss and exercise equipment. The opportunists reinvigorate social responsibility but also further their financial investments through anti-obesity campaigns. The campaigners and opportunists utilize scientific claims to sell their ideas and publicly back their products. Both have good social intentions but have vested economic interests since most of their actions correlate with shareholder’s interests rather than obese people.
Enforcers are actively involved in the obesity campaigns as active participants. Enforcers serve as weight loss specialists, personal gym trainers, or healthcare professionals. They deconstruct obesity concerns to the participants who are either obese or are responsible for rectifying the issue. The practices used include advising individuals, providing feedback to people to help them remain healthy. In most cases, individuals enquire about the services of enforcers to fit in the obesity-sensitive culture. They also gauge the efficacy levels of recommendations, particularly exercise and diet, thus reinforcing obesity as an individualistic health issue. Enforcers also illustrate obesity as unwanted through written media in the form of success stories which people emulate to prevent obesity.
Entrepreneur self is the engagement of individual responsiveness and self-monitoring. They illustrate an individual’s responsibility to work towards a healthy lifestyle as morally vital. The responsibility takes various forms, such as tracking cholesterol levels and the consumption of sufficient healthy foods such as fruits.The most significant type of entrepreneur self is the diet restriction that reduces intake of saturated fats.
Social Promoters of Obesity
Health is perceived differently by individuals because of a person’s interests and perspectives of life. What is considered unhealthy in certain cultural contexts is viewed as a healthy way of living, which defines the much-needed diversity in the world today. However, medical practitioners are critical in elaborating the different effects of the health condition by promoting health awareness and the best approaches that should be used to accomplish desired outcomes (Sallis et al. 5). It becomes easier to address the condition and safeguard individuals from succumbing to the health condition by regulating their food intake, encouraging them to engage in physical activities, and adopting a healthy lifestyle consistent with the recommended practices.
The major social promoters of obesity includelack of areas designed for physical exercise due to poor urban planning and automation and the increased consumption of unhealthy foods. The altering of patterns of eating and physical exercise has greatly contributed to the obesity issue. A critical factor in the increase in obesity cases is the undermining of physical exercise.Today, most children are exempt from walking or cycling to school due to the perceived danger of road traffic. In addition, the loss of the playing field has also diminished the opportunity for regular exercises. The increased popularity of virtual games has also exacerbated the issue since most children spend most of their time indoors with limited physical exercise.Residents whose neighborhoods have good access to recreation facilities for physical exercise are less likely to be obese.
Automation of daily chores has also increased the risk of obesity due to lack of physical exercise. Automation occurs at work through computers and labor-saving devices at home. The transportation sector also influences the increase in obesity cases as the increase, and ready accessibility of vehicles have led people to drive as the most common means of transport. In contrast, cycling and walking to work or running errands has the best outcome of being healthy and physically fit.
Rapid urbanization coupled with poor planning has led to diminishing physical activity environments, directly contributing to increasing obesity cases through lack of exercise (Sallis and Karen, 129). Physical activity environments include places such as parks, trails, playgrounds, sidewalks, and recreational facilities. Physical exercises have been taken over by a sedentary lifestyle where homes are filled with electronic entertainment devices that restrict movements and increase fat accumulation due to lack of exercise. The government is responsible for creating an environment that simplifies the decision to become fit, such as the renovation of parks creating an environment suitable for maintaining a healthy population.
The media is also responsible for increasing obesity cases through intensified advertisement of unhealthy foods with high fat and sugar content. This has led to the increase in fast food joints whose portions are advertised widely, are cheaper, and are served in bigger portions. Media is used to encourage children and adults to increase their portion sizes, which often increases calorie ingestion. Mainstream media has also increased risk consciousness regarding foods by increasing access to information such as food additives, pesticides, and preservatives.
In addition, disparities in access to healthy foods have an immense effect on the likelihood of obesity cases among members of the ethnic population. Individuals who have ready access to healthy foods are less likely to be obese.Food prices also play a significant role in influencing food choices among low-income populations since they have to cut back on healthy foods leading to poorer health (Ward, John, and Julie, 348). Disparities in food accessibility and walkable areas disadvantage racial minorities such as African Americans and Latinos.African Americans have the highest level of adult obesity at 49.6%, Latinos at 44.8%, whites at 42.2%, and Asians at 17.4%. Access to parks and recreational facilities is lower in low-income areas leading to an increased prevalence of obesity in the neighborhoods.
Portraying obesity as a social problem has multiple benefits that are influenced by the ability of individuals to focus on largely ignored effects of the health problem. One of the leading causes of obesity is poor eating habits, an aspect that is widely promoted by the fast-food industry. Even though some people suffering from obesity acquire the condition from genetic attributes, there is a need to tackle the social enhancers of obesity in the modern world. Misleading marketing and promotional materials in the fast-food industry should be regulated to avoid exposing individuals to a wide range of risks that interfere with their quality of life. For this reason, resolving the adverse effects associated with obesity can be accomplished by addressing the social promoters of the condition in the world today.
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