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"the obesity epidemic in America" - Anthropology Essay

Dec 9, 2010   #1
"I couldn't open up a magazine, you couldn't read a newspaper, you couldn't turn on the TV without hearing about the obesity epidemic in America," said Morgan Spurlock, director of Academy Award nominated documentary, "Super Size Me." It is no question that North Americans are bigger than in the past. Statistics have proven that the rate of obesity in adults and children are two times as much as they were in 1980, and triple the amount for adolescents. The rising rate of obesity is a huge concern because it is linked to many big health concerns, such as cancer. Sedentary lifestyle and ready-availability of high caloric food have caused obesity in North America.

To start off, the marketing strategies of food processing companies and fast food outlets have targeted consumer's psychological vulnerability and biological disposition for high caloric foods. Psychologically, human beings are inclined to answer in the affirmative when suggested to do something. When a cashier asks if they want to upgrade the meal to a combo, the consumer's reaction is to say yes. In addition, people are inclined to accept better deals even when they may not desire to consume all of it. Fast food restaurants do not lose much profit by giving us more food because the marginal cost of food production is very low due to economies of scale. Economies of scale mean the larger the production, the lower the average cost. It becomes a race of manufacturers to increase the size of containers to increase market shares by giving consumers the "better deal." Due to the fact that we are psychologically obligated to take the "better deal," we then consume more calories. For example, shoppers at Costco experience bulk buying as the chips sold at Costco are in party size. These packages are bigger and for 2 for 1 deal prices that are as cheap as the normal sized packages. By giving more for the same price, shoppers would take the better deal and just ingest more.

An another successful marketing strategy is selling cheap food that fills people's stomach, for instance, McDonald's. "I love McDonald's particularly because of its cheap meals and because the meals never fail to please my stomach. For example, for a such a fulfilling meal like the highly renown Big Mac combo, I only have to pay $7.33," responded sixteen-years-old Edward Cho when asked why he loved McDonald's. However, the cheap foods come with a hidden cost. Corn, which is the main source in all McDonald's meals, are heavily fertilized-both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington, America. Over the past decade, the Federal Government of America has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop extremely low. Since corn is used in many of the ingredients, McDonald's, can sell, Big Mac, fries, and a coke for around $5. It is a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half of the daily-recommended requirement for adults. The meat used in McDonald's such as cattle and chicken are kept in close, concentrated conditions, and fattened up for slaughter as fast as possible, contributing to efficiencies of scale and thus lower prices.

Furthermore, there has also been an explosion of all-you-can-eat restaurants, such as, sushi buffet, pizza buffet, Chinese buffet, Korean BBQ buffet, all-you-can-eat rib buffets, etc. Since customers wants to eat as much as they paid, they eat more so they can go home satisfied. Also, a problem that lies underneath buffet is that when we are given a wide range of choices, people are incapable of limiting themselves to just a few items. Recently, a group of scientists conducted a study using laboratory rats. The rats were given just one dish each of a protein, a carbohydrate, and a fat. The rats ate the food they needed, but stopped there, even though there was food remaining. Then the researchers added more choices to the rats' buffet; they gave them two different carbohydrate foods, two proteins, and two choices of fats or oils. Surprisingly, expanding their choices seemed to cause the rats' appetite control mechanisms to malfunction. Instead of eating just what they needed to keep their bodies running smoothly, they were compelled to eat some of everything; some of the rats consumed so much that they literally ate themselves to death.

Secondly, advances in agricultural production and the rise in global trade have increased the variety of availability of high caloric food. Thomas Malthus, a British scholar, hypothesized that because the growth in world's food supply was linear, but the growth in the world's population is exponential: at one point, not everyone would have enough food. However, modern agriculture technology has proven Malthus wrong. Different genetic varieties of seeds, mechanized farming, and availability of cheap food for livestock have contributed to abundance of food. The increasing availability of grain has allowed society to produce more meat which has high calories than crops. In addition, consumer taste buds have moved away from the consumption of vegetables and healthy food to sugary food, meat, and other fattening products. For example, KFC has recently launched a new sandwich called "Double Down Sandwich" which replaces bread with two chicken fillets. A normal sandwich would have less than 300 calories, but "Double Down Sandwich" has 540 calories. The sandwich also had many health concerns due to the fact that the sandwich had a full day worth of sodium. However, despite health concerns, it is still best-selling new menu. In addition, biologically, our taste buds prefer sugary food and fattening products. Objectively, something that contains fat taste better than something that doesn't. There was a study entitled "Pepsi Vs. Coke" and the results was that more people preferred Pepsi and scientist have shown that Pepsi had more sugar than Coke. Compared to the diet in 1940's, today's diet is much more unhealthy in the past. People tended to eat what they grew, thus, ate more vegetables. Also, they ate less meat and generally ate meals that were prepared from scratch.

Lastly, improvements in technology and the structural shift in the economy towards services have engraved sedentary lifestyle to North Americans. The economy has shifted from agricultural economy to service orientated economy and manufacturing economy. As economy is more service orientated and the manufacturing process becomes more mechanized. Less number of people are working physically challenging sectors like agriculture. Given that the average person spent eight hours of farm work per day, more people were involved in physical labour than the people in today's society. Furthermore, people's recreational activities has become less physical. For example, in the 1970s people spent their free time hiking, picnicking, played sports, etc. Now, teenagers engage in less physical activities such as chatting, watching TV/YouTube/movies, playing video games, and talking on the phone. There is also a greater emphasis on education and longer years of schooling are causing people to become inactive and spend greater proportions of their time behind their backs. Moreover, improved transportations and greater access to cars have caused people to spend less energy on travel. Greater approximation of buildings and urbanizations have caused travelling to be limited to short distances. Increasing availability of water and electronics such as dishwaters, vacuum cleaners, washing machines have made housework less labour intense. Children being raised in affluence have also become complaisant and less active that will continue later onto their lives. Shift in culture in celebrating sedentary lifestyle such as pro gamers in South Korea, sponsored by gaming companies. Teenagers spend 4.3 hours a day gaming in North America. There has also been changes in the norms-it is OK to be big (weigh more than B.M.I) Big is beautiful. Lastly, growing affluence is making us lazy. It carries the laziness into the adults and penetrates into a cycle.

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