What can be done about adolescent obesity?
Biology: Basic Concepts
Web Paper Assignment # 3
What can be done about adolescent obesity?
Among adolescents, obesity is continuing to become a cause for concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “an estimated seventeen percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are overweight.” (1) Supported by multitudes of fast food franchises such as McDonalds and Burger King, and a cultural tendency to want our products convenient and quick since we are always in a rush, it is unsurprising that there is obesity among both adolescents and adults. Instead of learning to deal with weight gain in healthy ways such as exercise and a more moderated diet, many adolescents, wanting the emulate the thin, fit people they see in the media, turn to unhealthy alternatives such as extreme dieting, without realizing that dieting can be just as harmful as obesity.
Fat itself is a complicated thing. According to the New York Times, “…research has shown that fat cells act like chemical factories and that body fat is potent stuff: a highly active tissue that secretes hormones and other substances with profound and sometimes harmful effects on metabolism, weight and overall health.” (2) Furthermore,
“Fatty tissue is riddled with immune system cells called macrophages, which pour out substances that cause inflammation, now thought to play a role in heart disease. The fat cells themselves make additional hormones that affect the body's sensitivity to insulin and are closely tied to the development of Type 2 diabetes.” (2)
Given how dangerous obesity sounds at this point, as well as the stigma that it carries, it is not surprising that people would try anything to try to lose the weight.
Unfortunately, very few people ever seek to improve their health through eating better food and exercising. Instead, they turn to dieting. Even as early as 1987, experts were aware that dieting was not effective. Jane E. Brody of the New York Times wrote,
“Why do so many dieters fail to keep off those hard-lost pounds, often regaining weight even before they have reached their desired goals?...But experts on behavior have identified what is probably the most potent factor undermining successful weight control: self-defeating attitudes.” (3)
This idea that dieting is correlated with a negative mindset was focus of a study in 1995 that hypothesized that “frequent dieting would be correlated with negative psychosocial and health behavior outcomes.” (4) While the conclusion was ultimately that “frequent dieting efforts in adolescents should not be viewed in isolation, but rather in the broader context of health and risk-taking behaviors,” (4) it should be noted that regular dieting was associated with “binge eating, poor body image, lower connectedness to others, greater alcohol use, and greater tobacco use.” (4)
Together, obesity and dieting form a dangerous partnership. Adolescents are who are obese are already in such precarious states, but then they continue to strain their bodies with fad diets that limit caloric intake, and in the process deprive the body of nutrients that it requires. Where does the answer lie? How can adolescents be expected to maintain healthy weights and body images when even the adults around them cannot set good examples?
There needs to be a national overhaul of how people think about food. There are foods that are healthier for you and then there are those that are not as healthy for you. However, this dichotomy between “good foods” and “bad foods” does not need to exist. There is no such thing as “good food” or “bad food” when you learn how to eat in moderation. Furthermore, bigger portions are unnecessary. In order to survive, you only need to eat until you are full, but not beyond that. It is simple practices like these that adults need to undertake in order to fight adolescent obesity. Children do not just develop their eating habits spontaneously or overnight. How and what they eat are governed by the practices of the people around them, most likely their parents. When parents begin to set a good example for their children, they are helping not only their children, but also themselves.
Fighting adolescent obesity should go beyond just changing eating habits; it should start in the home. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and try to make sure that their sons and daughters are eating properly. They also need to recognize that obesity is also heavily tied to mental health. If a son or daughter is obese, this should not be overlooked or ignored. Instead it should be confronted and dealt with. If parents begin to teach their children that being obese should not carry the stigma that it does, then hopefully the ripples of change will show up in future generations. In addition to removing shame from the equation when discussing obesity, there should also be more talk over issues such a self-esteem and body image.
Ultimately, there is no quick fix to the problem. A complex problem such as adolescent obesity is difficult because it embodies many other problematic aspects of our society. Obesity and the subsequent dangerous methods that people use to try to escape it are tied to broader societal issues such the obsession with appearance and material goods at the cost of more legitimate personal development. Essentially, there must be a reordering of priorities in our culture, which is why the task of handing problems such as obesity is so daunting.