Finn: America: Land of the free, home of the obese

Taylor Finn

America, a powerful nation, where all are free and — as of late — many are overweight.

My uncle works as an engineer in the beverage industry, and he sent me a link the other day about the dangers of sugar consumption and how it affects your weight. As I was reading through the research I came across a section in which there was a bar graph that showed the percentage of overweight adults for a series of 41 different countries. I can’t say I was surprised to see the bar representing the overweight adults in America to be longer than all the others, I was actually expecting it. Those of you who are a bit competitive would have even been proud by the margin in which we are winning the race to obesity. But is it really the race America should want to be winning?

This definitely isn’t the first article written about the obesity epidemic in America; it has been brought to our attention numerous times. Yet, we don’t seem to be making any significant progress. Today in the United States, there are more than 200,000 fast food restaurants; in 2010 over one-third of American adults were considered to be obese; and the french fry is the most commonly eaten “vegetable.” Let that last fact sink in for a little while.

According to the same article given to me by my uncle, the high sugar content that seems to be a staple in the American diet increases the body mass index. This increase can cause numerous health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease and cancer. We all know that there is a correlation between bad diets and poor health. However an aspect of the obesity epidemic in America that many don’t consider is the way in which it affects our economy.

In 2009, Health Affairs reported obesity-related health problems cost $147 billion per year. Which, once the math was done, came out to be around 10 percent of all medical spending. If obesity was taken completely out of the picture, the amount spent on Medicaid would be 11.8 percent lower. Numbers like this prove the cost of unhealthy eating is not just a personal problem; when individuals decide to disregard their diets, the entire nation pays for it. So for all you fiscally-minded individuals, reach for the apple instead of the potato chips next time, because in the long run, you will be doing your checkbook a favor.

However, what I am still confused about is that even though a majority of the population is aware of the detrimental effects obesity has on their overall health, and despite the fact that obesity hurts the nation’s economy, Americans refuse to be active participants in improving the current situation. Many have even devoted their time and energy to fighting against measures taken by the U.S government to better the health of country.

In 2013, when Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, proposed a ban on all sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, the public was outraged. Nearly 53 percent of New Yorkers were against the ban, and hundreds showed up at a march to demonstrate their aversion for Bloomberg’s proposal. The mayor refused to back down and defended his stance in an interview with CBS where he said: “If government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don’t know what its purpose is.” Legislators can see the devastating track the American population is going down in terms of health. California is currently in the process of passing a tax on junk food, and the nation’s first lady has made it her mission to create an active, health-conscious nation.

Unfortunately, as seen in New York City, American citizens continue to be reluctant to any sort of change, and until we can face the facts and begin to change the way we all think about health and diets, there will be no progression in the fight against obesity. We know the health risks associated with unhealthy eating, so there is no better time than now to redefine the American diet. If, as a country, we continue to turn the other shoulder and ignore the problems we are having with obesity, we will continue to be longest bar on the graph.