Obesity and American Culture

A Nutritional Nightmare

It is no secret that there is an obesity problem in America. It is also no secret that we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for every product under the sun. But how much are the two connected? Is the excess of advertising and marketing ploys in both the food and the dieting industry partially to blame for the mess that we are all in? How much of our weight gain is a problem with self-control, and how much of it is a toxic environment? The only way to find out is to look at how habits are formed, what expectations are being made in our society, and how our brains handle information on what causes obesity, and what we can do as a society to make things better.


What Causes Obesity?

oveObesity is a very big problem in America. As of 2014, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases stated that 1 in 3 American adults was considered to be overweight or obese. But this wasn’t the only time that obesity was considered problematic in a society.  In fact, morbid obesity went as far back as the ancient Roman Empire. A time where fast food as we know it did not exist.

So, it is safe to say, that obesity isn’t a new problem either. Meaning that there had to be more than just the invention of fast food involved.  So, where does it come from if not fast food?

It comes from two fronts, genetics, and environmental factors.



The genetic end of things is a more recently discovered concept.  In an article that was published by Choquet and Meyre, it was explained that there are genetic predispositions, as well as environmental factors when it comes to obesity. “Aside from environmental factors, considerable evidence from twin, adoption, and family studies indicates that 40 to 70% of BMI variation is due to genetic factors .”

So, the good news for people who can’t seem to get the weight off or feel like they self-sabotage too much is that it is not all about their lack of willpower. It is a literal genetic condition that can be exaggerated or diminished due to a person’s environment.  This explains why obesity has come and gone in societal waves.

But what was the purpose of people having the genes that store fat in the first place? Why did people with the genes manage to pass the ability to store fat on? The answer is to fight famine.


Fat Storing Was Advantageous

When civilizations rise or fall in wealth, there are shifts in food security, which makes your body react. When obesitythere are times of famine, there is little fat content available to the masses, so the human body reacts by storing every moment of energy it could possibly have.

While your body is starving during a time of famine, your brain will naturally decrease your feelings of satiety. According to F.E.A.S.T, “When starving, the hypothalamus turns up hunger so we can think of little but food; it keeps satiety (fullness) signals low so that when food becomes available we can gorge, and it quiets the part of the brain responsible for self-restraint.” Excessive hunger literally existed as a survival mechanism first and foremost during times of famine.

In fact, this sort of adaptation was not only seen as a necessity for our survival but the survival of our offspring. ” Scientists first began to suspect that a mother’s diet could program her adult child for obesity by studying people born to mothers who were pregnant during the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1945. Hitler cut off food to Holland and thousands died of starvation. Women who were pregnant gave birth to infants that were smaller than normal, but epigenetic modifications prepared the children to survive famine by increasing their appetites and ability to store fat.”

But if there are times of plenty right now, with fast food on every corner then why is there still a huge obesity problem today in both older and younger generations?  There hasn’t been a mass famine since the Great Depression. There has been, but it does not come from a source of food scarcity.


Our Current Environment

obesityAmerican culture as we know it is the perfect storm for the creation of an obese population. It is a vicious cycle of feast and famine that is formed from greed and profit.

The Fitness Industry

For starters, the precedent for starvation is already there due to the existence of marketed fad diets. Commercials, media, and other outside sources plague on the insecurities of the public. Then, they offer a  fast solution to that problem with a specialized diet that comes in various forms, such as, extreme workout programs, special cookbooks, diet pills,  etc.  From there, starvation, drug abuse, and high activity are encouraged.

This makes your body feel aware of its impending starvation and turns on the gene that encourages the fat storing behavior. Which leads to the introduction of the…

Fast Food Industry

…where food is processed quickly with an abundance of oils, fats, red meats. This is in response to the people literally starving themselves then feeling the biological increase in demand for fatty foods. They make money off the people who are responding to forced starvation with addictive behaviors. Eventually, once the binging sessions are over, the people who are responding to these binging sessions feel guilty enough to try and find a solution to the rapid weight gain. Then the cycle repeats.

How can we stop the insanity of starvation and binging behavior? How do we remove American society from this destructive cycle of obesity issues?

The Solution

There are three things America would need to focus on if we are ever going to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic.

  • For starters, we need to focus on culturally exploring body positivity. Start demanding from the Media, a positive interpretation of people with all shapes in sizes.
  • Then, we start investing less in fad diets and more on comprehensive nutritional and fitness education.
  • Finally, we would need to also increase the demand for nutritional alternatives from our fast food-based businesses.

It would take time and effort from many people. However, until we start acknowledging the cause of obesity, on a grand scale, we will not see any sustainable change.