There is no doubt that statistics show that there is a serious problem with obesity both in the USA and in most other parts of the Western world at the moment.
This is a public health issue because obesity is one of the most dangerous preventable situations for someone’s health, and can relate to many other issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and problems with joints and mobility. This is not only unpleasant for the person suffering but is also something that causes a drain on public resources and can mean significant decreases in life expectancy as well as lost productivity from the workforce. All of these things have knock on effects on society, and that is why many people think that the obesity epidemic is something that needs to be addressed at a social and public level rather than just by the individuals affected by it on their own.
Policies and Obesity
It is well documented that the best way to address obesity on an individual level is to adopt a healthy eating pattern and increase physical activity. The fact that there are so many people in the overweight or obese categories in the USA is therefore largely blamed on many Americans having an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
The controversy around this is not about how people become obese, but whether or not it is the duty of companies who manufacture foods that can lead to obesity when consumed in an unhealthy way to ensure that people are less tempted to buy them if they are already overweight, or that they are encouraged to consume them responsibly if they are not.
There are some people who believe that policies on portion sizes, for instance, in fast food restaurants, or policies that ban added sugar or other additives thought to contribute to obesity might help address the problem. Other people believe that it is the choice of the individual what they eat, and therefore adding extra cost on to products that contain unhealthy ingredients, or rationing portion sizes would do nothing to discourage people from unhealthy consumption and would simply penalize the people who want to enjoy these products responsibly.
More Research is Needed
At the moment the conclusions around whether or not policies like these can have an impact on public health are based around opinion, conjecture, and sometimes the results of small scale studies. This means that it is currently impossible to say whether doing things like reducing the maximum size of sugary beverages sold by restaurants will actually make a difference for sure. The only way to know this would be for long time trials to be run in specific areas where data is gathered about the people in the surrounding population and analyzed effectively.
This means that there is certainly no harm in trying to turn around the obesity problem in some areas by using policies, but that there aren’t currently clear reasons to apply these policies across the board.
Work in Public Health Research, Policy and Strategy
If the topic of public health and obesity is one that interests you and you would like to be involved in the research and in the policymaking to come in this field, then there are career opportunities in the public health sector. A good way to get started if you are interested in doing this is to do a related qualification such as the online public health course at the University of Arizona
As you can see we are currently still not in a good position to make clear changes that will definitely reduce obesity rates, however a lot of work is being done in this area, and individuals experiencing problems due to obesity still have plenty of options for support when it comes to losing weight.