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Why Has the Obesity Rate Grown in America Over the Last Fifty Years?

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Obesity is defined as possessing a body mass index of at least thirty kilograms per square meter, and extreme obesity is defined as possessing a body mass index of at least forty  kilograms per square meter (Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology). Body fat can also be measured to classify obesity by underwater weighing, skinfold thickness, and waist to hip circumference ratio. According to a study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010, 34 percent of Americans are obese. Seventeen percent of those Americans are children under eighteen years old. Just since 1985, the obesity rates are on the rise and are not slowing down. The cause of obesity is simply caused by an individual consuming too many calories he or she needs.

There are two arguments that people make about obesity, one is that the growing numbers are from genetics and the second is that it is from eating too much food. There has been a huge increase in fast food availability and marketing strategies luring people to fast food. Food is more accessible now more than ever with a fast food restaurant on every street corner (Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology). It’s fast and easy to go out and grab some cheap food, but the problem is, that we American’s do that now more than we really should. It used to be that every night a mother or father would have a home cooked meal on the dinner table every single night for the kids. This is no longer the case with how busy people are and how fast they want to eat to just get it done.

According to a study done at Yale University, kids think snacks taste better when their favorite or popular cartoon characters are on the snack packages. The researchers gave forty children, ages four to six, three identical pairs of snacks: graham crackers, gummy fruit, and carrots. One package of each food had a cartoon character on the front and the others didn’t. The children were asked if the foods tasted the same or if one tasted better. The results found that more than two thirds said they would choose the snack with the character on the package. This study was an eye opener and showed evidence of how powerful these marketing strategies can be. According to a Yale researcher, Christina Roberto, the majority of characters out there are pushing kids toward junk food. An article done by Nanci Hellmich from USA Today, states that she believes it is the marketer’s fault and the reason why children our growing bigger. Marketing teams don’t care about how much sugar or carbohydrates are in their products, they just want them to sell. As long as they keep putting kid related icons on these snacks, kids will continue to have their parents buy it for them. Hellmich’s suggestion is that marketing teams should focus their time and energy on putting these icons on food such as carrots and any other healthy snacks.

Thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is now a law in California that all fast food restaurants and restaurants with more than twenty locations post the calorie count on their menus. California is the only state to have passed this law (“English News”). This is the best idea anyone could ever put into action because it gives people the choice to live healthier lifestyles. Restaurants can no longer trick people into having unhealthy choices. Whatever the consumer chooses, they will know exactly what is in it. This bill was just passed two years ago but it is going to help control the obesity rate. Every state should pass this law because people need to be in charge of what they are eating.

Times sure were different even just twenty years ago with the way people lived and ate. To get some more insight on just how things have changed, what better way to find that information out than to interview someone from that time. Colette Beloberk is my grandmother who is sixty years old and grew up in San Francisco, California. When asked about her views on obesity and the new ways of American eating, there were some surprising answers. She was asked “Do you remember there being as many fast food places as there are now when you were a kid?” and her answer was that yes there still were a lot of fast food places, yes you would see them on every corner. Colette said, “The fast food restaurants weren’t as popular as they are today, there were never any lines and hardly anyone ever went. They weren’t very popular because hardly anyone could afford it, there was usually only one parent working per family when I was a kid.”

Colette remembered only going out to dinner about once a year when she was a kid. The next question was “When did fast food start becoming easily accessible and more popular?” Colette answered, “Probably in the 1990s because more women were starting to become part of the work force and there were now two parents working. In the nineties people were becoming busier and busier and the more busy, the more people go out to restaurants or fast food because it was just easier.” Every single day fast food is getting more popular because people have such busy lives.

“Did you used to snack a lot as a kid?” Colette answered, “No I didn’t used to snack a lot. We didn’t have the snacks that there are today. There weren’t any pre- made packaged snacks that were just easy. If people wanted snacks then they would have to cook something. I never wanted any of that cooked food so I just didn’t snack. Eating any kinds of chips or cookies is so cheap now and fresh fruits are so expensive.”

“Playing outside games, board games, riding our bikes, or roller skating were the types of things kids did,” explained Colette. She said times were different because they didn’t have the Internet, iPods, computers, or Gameboys. “Kids used to play tag or kick ball and we were never in the house.” Colette said that houses used to be smaller and that it was normal for a family because no one was ever in the house anyway. The last question asked was “What kind of lunches were available to you at school when you were a kid?” The answer was “Everyone got the same exact thing. A sandwich or a slice of pizza that came with a fruit cup, a vegetable and it usually was carrots, and milk. Everyone got the same thing because there were no other choices.”

The reasons obesity has grown so prevalent among adults and children today are simple. People are highly influenced by the people marketing the food. Using marketing strategies that will lure you in is going to make you want to eat these foods that are not good for your diet. We also have the Internet today. It has only gotten more popular as the years go on. There are babies that are two years old playing on iPads. The Internet is far more interesting to kids than going outside and being active. People need to understand that since there are so many technology changes today, they need to find new ways of staying healthy. By teaching your children to exercise daily and teaching them life lessons, the obesity rate will go down. The new law in California that every fast food restaurant and sit down restaurant in the state has to provide nutritional information for their food will provide people with the right stepping stones to a better and healthier lifestyle.


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