Obesity epidemic in the US: Many factors, many issues

One third of Americans are overweight and nearly a third of people under 20 are obese. We asked our Zintro experts to discuss the current leading ideas, approaches, or policies that are being developed to address the obesity epidemic in the US.

Omisslewis, an expert in exercise science and nutrition, says that there are a host of issues plaguing adults and children in relation to obsesity. “It comes down to the fact that there is too much food available to most people all the time. People eat for lots of reasons, but the one they should eat for is survival. Many foods that are legally marketed have little to no nutritional value. These foods are easy and cheap to produce and cheap to buy, are often addicting and purchased by low income families,” says Omisslewis. “Good foods like vegetables, fruits, and lean meats are expensive and not always available to families either due to cost or availability.”

Omisslewis points out that the public is overwhelmed by claims on foods, marketing tactics used to sell food (called structure and function claims), and general misinformation on food and fitness. “The FDA is trying to make it easier for the public to understand information about the food we need and the exercise we require, but it is just not enough. As for policy, there is a movement to have the FDA require compcanie to label food products with the standard food label and one that shows what was added to the product, for example, extra sugar,” she explains. “Farmers markets added to places that did not have access to fresh produce are increasing. And some cities, like Richmond, VA, have added bus routes to enable people in lower income areas to access stores where the fruit and vegetable choices are generous.”

Annette Maggi, a strategic nutrition marketing and communications consultant, says that the issue of weight is a complex one, and a multi-tiered approach is needed to manage it against obesity. “At the policy level, work is needed to ensure strong nutrition guidelines are in place for school lunch and that food regulations and policies are aligned with current science,” she says. “Fat taxes and junk food taxes have been bantered about but not instituted. New school lunch guidelines and calorie and nutrition labeling at restaurants are in process.”
Maggi points out that on the environmental level, cities can build bike paths and sideways; worksites can guide employees to restaurants with healthier menu items; and companies can offer vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins at reduced costs in employee cafeterias. “Consumers can change their environments by changing their driving patterns to avoid quick serve restaurants and convenience stores, using smaller plates and bowls at home, and purchasing fitness equipment. Many initiatives at the state level and through employer groups, retailers and insurers are moving in this direction,” she says. “At the individual level, consumers have purchase power, and can utilize the health and wellness offerings most grocery stores have to purchase more nutrient-dense food items. Getting healthier foods into the household can help build better habits. More than 6,000 grocery stores across the country offer programs to help shopper make more nutrition purchases.”

Kate Myerson, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, says that obesity is a complicated disease because there are so many contributing factors. “All too often we hear single ideas called out as the cause of obesity, for example, fast food or sugar sweetened beverages. The truth is there is no one cause of obesity and there is not one singular change that will solve this problem,” she says. “There is consensus in the weight-loss research community that intensive behavioral intervention is, by far, the most effective nonsurgical treatment for obesity and overweight. What behavior modification addresses is not the what we are doing but the how we are doing it.”

By Maureen Aylward

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