Chapter 8: The Obesity Epidemic

The United States, just like every other country, has stereotypes. Some examples that tend to be common may include loud and patriotic, but more recently, the current stereotype is that we love to eat. Clearly these aren’t facts, just stereotypes, however the idea had to evolve from somewhere.

The obesity epidemic is definitely a key player for this stereotype and after doing some preliminary research, I happened to find a collection of maps that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released. In order to share with the group, I created a GIF as a way to better represent the material as one as opposed to including each individual map.

To go along with what the CDC provided, I also found some statistical information that gives a numeric value that correlates with what the maps were able to show.

Within the last quarter of the 20th century the following data has been collected:

1960-1980:      45% overweight                      15% obese

2008:               64.7% overweight                   34.3% obese

2030:               86% overweight (Predicted)   51% obese (Predicted)


As you can see, the United States has experienced a dramatic wave of weight gain, which over time has become increasingly more severe. After reviewing this information I became curious as to how such a large percentage of the population became obese in this short period of time.

According to the CDC there seems to be three factors that definitely play a role in why obesity is now so prevalent. Within the “food” environment we have (1) observed and increased number of fast food establishments in the United States (2) experienced a lack of access to full service grocery stores selling affordable healthful food (3) Seen a trend of less healthy food and beverage advertising aimed at children. While all of these components are equal contributors in the obesity epidemic, due to my previous areas of research I decided to zero in on the element of processed foods and its relationship to obesity.(Macdonald)

After doing a bit or prior research on obesity, I couldn’t help but to wonder if obesity started to occur around the same time that processed foods began to dominate the market and whether or not the development of fast food joints are related to obesity

1970 is the year that fast food first began to explode and from that point on Americans became more inclined to eat out on a regular basis.(Murkowski) With that being said, the convenience of fast food may have transformed the food industry but it also transformed the American population. We can clearly see from the data that between 1980 and 2008, obesity doubled and as we approach the year 2030, the number of people who suffer from obesity is getting closer and closer to the predicted amount.(Holger)

I was able to find a study that specifically targeted my question regarding the relationship between consuming processed foods and obesity. The study analyzed a random sample of approximately 34,000 Brazilian adults and minors of ten years or older in attempt to establish whether there is a relationship between ultra processed foods and a person’s size. Ultra processed foods can be defined as any formulation made by the food industry from substances that have been obtained by further processing a food through chemical synthesis resulting in a product containing little if any whole foods. Information was gathered from cross sectional data that was previously gathered from a 2008-2009 dietary survey. Researchers were able to utilize the participant’s 24-hour food journals and classified each item into different categories based on the amount of processing. A regression function was then formulated to evaluate the relationship between the consumption of ultra processed foods and ones body-mass-index while keeping in mind socio-demographics like smoking and physical activity.(Public Health Nutrition)

The research was able to conclude that the mean level of caloric intake was 1908 calories; as a nation two thirds of those calories came from unprocessed or minimally processed foods while the other one third came from items that are considered to be ultra processed. After further analyzing, the conclusion of their study suggests that the consumption of ultra processed foods is indeed associated with a higher BMI and being overweight or obese.(Public Health Nutrition)

Although Americans are not the subject matter of this particular study, the results found in this study are still applicable due to the fact that obesity is an issue occurring in almost all parts of the world, America just accounts for a large percentage.

With all of this being said, how is obesity suppose to be stopped and in what ways are we trying to stop this epidemic?

“Food Intake and Prevalence of Obesity in Brazil: an Ecological Analysis.” Public Health Nutrition. 12.11 (2009):

Murkowski Lisa, Preventing Obesity in Children: The Time Is Right for Policy Action, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 33, Issue 4, Supplement, October 2007, Pages S167-S168

Holger Strulik, A mass phenomenon: The social evolution of obesity, Journal of Health Economics, Volume 33, January 2014, Pages 113-125

Macdonald, Sharon M. “Obesity: Worldwide Prevalence and Trends.” Healthy Weight Journal. 13.6 (1999). Print.


One thought on “Chapter 8: The Obesity Epidemic

  1. dgromels says:

    Hello Anna, I really enjoyed hearing about your topic in class because there are so many avenues by which you could further your research. From listening to you talk in class, it seems like you are interested in this topic based on your personal experiences with food growing up in a home in which a healthful, organic diet was a priority. I had a very different experience with food when I was growing up, with little emphasis on the quality of the food I ate, and I definitely believe that has affected the way I think about food today.
    While this week you focused more on the biological aspect of obesity, I think it would be interesting to look more into the cultural side of the issue. How do our personal experiences with food and the standards for food in our culture affect our health, particularly in regard to obesity? You could look at this just within the various regions of the United States, or even compare between nations. It could be interesting to compare the European approach to food to that of the United States or even Latin America since you have some experience from your study abroad in England.
    You could also look at the issue from a more socioeconomic approach, looking at how the economic situation in which a child grows up affects their eating habits and chances of obesity later in life. This could incorporate the effects of food deserts and the growth of fast food chains that you spoke about in class and eventually lead you to some policy recommendations.


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