One of the leading issues in the United States today is that of obesity. Obesity can be defined as “Weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height is described as overweight or obese” by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (2015). The United States is one of the heaviest countries in the world. For example, 34.9% of adults are obese – that is more than one third of the population. Additionally, those in the U.S. are more at risk for “heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer” (CDC, 2015). Not only is the weight problem in the U.S. very unhealthy and personally costly for many, but it also places a burden on the society as a whole. To confirm this, the CDC (2015) reported that in 2008 it cost an average $1,429 more each year for medical care of those considered obese. Why is this such a problem in the U.S.? While there are many possibilities, this paper addresses the issues of antibiotics and steroids in our foods, fast foods, what we drink, and how not eating naturally can cause obesity. As a way to further understand this problem, and potentially create a solution, foods eaten at school, and the teaching of nutrition in schools, are examined.
Antibiotics and Steroids
There has been considerable discussion about the antibiotics and steroids in the foods we eat, and in the medicines, we take; and the effects have not always been presented as being healthy. In one particular article, it was noted, “The antibiotics routinely given to livestock to make them fat do the same thing to people. Antibiotics are thought to fatten by changing gut bacteria to make absorption of nutrients more efficient” (Rosenburg, 2014). These findings have been supported by another article, published in 2013 by The Lancet Infectious Diseases (Angelakis, Merhej, & Raoult, 2013). These authors found that there is a correlation between the human body’s intestinal microbiota and obesity. If there are too many antibiotics and steroids present, the body cannot breakdown and digest food very well (Angelakis et al., 2013). The lack of breakdown can lead to obesity and other ills. While this may work to fatten up animals for consumption, it has a negative effect on humans. Having too many steroids and antibiotics in the system of all animals may lead to ill health; yet, most livestock (used for one purpose or another) usually do not live very long. In relationship to the medical industry, it has been seen that “US children get as many as 20 antibiotic treatments while they are growing up, says Martin Blaser, a leading antibiotic researcher at New York University Langone Medical Center” (Rosenburg, 2014). Whether we are getting large doses of steroids and antibiotics from the foods we eat or the medicines we take, are systems are not equipped to deal with this reality. The consequence is often obesity and sickness.
In relationship to fast foods, we are eating very differently today that we have in the past, resulting in often succumbing to grabbing a “quick bite” on the go. It has been researched by by Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition that, “At the turn of the 20th century, people were eating mostly simple, home-cooked meals. Around 2009, about half of what people ate was fast food, or other foods away from home” (Gunnars, n.d.). As U.S. society has shifted to an industrial and postindustrial culture, where the primary economic system is that of ever-increasing capitalism, there is a greater need for everyone to work. We are busier than ever before, and having fast foods like McDonald’s and Burger King available are very convenient for many people (Gunnars, n.d.). These findings are also consistent from an economic standpoint. In the past, eating at home was much less expensive and eating out cost quite a bit. While it still costs to eat out at some restaurants in the U.S. today, eating fast food is less expensive than cooking a meal at home, especially given the time it takes to prepare a meal at home.
It has also been noted by Gunnars (n.d.) that the type of work people do in the United States today has changed. We spend much more time at desk jobs than ever before, and this lack of exercise has an impact on weight gain. This is especially true when the sedentary work style is coupled with eating fast food. It seems that the two lifestyles of being extremely busy, yet sedentary at work both contribute to the purchasing and consuming of fast foods. If we were to pack our own lunches and take breaks in which we got up and moved around, U.S. society would probably be much healthier as a whole.
What We Drink
Another factor that influences the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. is that of the consumption of energy drinks, soft drinks, and alcohol (Poppitt, 2015; Samuels, 2014). This seems also to tie into our fast-paced lifestyle, as the need to stay alert and do more appears to increase with each year. As such, the number, and type, of these products available on the market today is astounding. Although these beverages may provide a temporary increase in alertness, except for maybe the alcohol, they all come at a high price.
Without question, the effects we receive from consuming energy drink, soft drinks, or alcohol are attractive, they do not meet our nutritional needs, leave us feeling full, nor energized for long. Although some may say that these drinks do not contribute to obesity in the United States (Poppitt, 2015), there is much more evidence to the contrary (Poppitt, 2015; Samuels, 2014). Lastly, the problem may not only be the sugars, similarly to what is found with antibiotics and steroids, the body may not be able to effectively digest and process all that goes into these beverages.
Not Eating Naturally
The notion that those in the U.S. do not eat as naturally as in the past ties into everything that has come before in this research. In analyzing an article written by a board-certified nutritionist, Jonny Bowden (2003), who interviewed Oz Garcia, M.S., or Dr.Oz – a internationally recognized expert in applying nutritional medicine to various health disorders, some evidence has been uncovered. Dr. Oz asserts that we are not living in the manner in which we should be. As noted previously, we live in a very fast-paced culture – very out of sync with the hunter and gatherer lifestyle (Bowden, 2003). With the industrial revolution, the way life is lived in the U.S. has changed. We tend to be much more inactive, and struggle to digest all of the indigestible products that go into our foods. From lack of exercise to what we actually ingest, those living in today’s society are challenged on every level to eat the simple foods our bodies need to stay healthy and avoid obesity.
The Role of Schools
In the past, it seemed as though public schools in the U.S. did a poor job of serving healthy foods to children (CDC, 2015). Many schools offered students soft drinks and unhealthy snacks via vending machines and in the lunchroom as well. Today however, much has changed. There has been an increased focus on eating healthier at school. Today, the public education system incorporates the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
This move towards supplying healthier foods to all school-aged children, within the public education system, is very instrumental in maintain the health and well-being of so many in the U.S. Nevertheless, it would also be incredibly useful to go back to teaching nutrition more completely in school. While the types of lunches offered can show some of this, the days of being actually taught what is healthy to consume have fallen by the wayside. It would be very beneficial in promoting a health-oriented mindset in our youth if nutrition were taught in schools. Having such programs could boost healthier living and reduce obesity.
As has been noted, the United States is one of the heaviest countries in the world. The obesity problem in the U.S. today is very unhealthy, as well as costly. What has been identified from the research is that the antibiotics and steroids in our foods, fast foods, what we drink, and how we no longer eat naturally causes obesity. While the foods eaten at school have improved exponentially in the past 20 years or so, the teaching of nutrition in schools needs to be addressed. In the meantime, the constant exposure to unhealthy processed foods and the fast-paced lifestyle in the U.S. today increasingly contributes to ill health and obesity. If we are to solve this problem, these issues must be addressed in a number of ways – not only for use, but for generations to come.
- Angelakis, E., Merhej, V., & Raoult, D. (2013). Review: Related actions of probiotics and antibiotics on gut microbiota and weight modification. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 13889-899. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70179-8
- Bowden, J. (2003). Overweight In America: The Experts Weight In. Total Health, 5. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved from
- Gunnars, K. (n.d.). 12 Graphs That Show Why People Get Fat. Authority Nutrition. Retrieved from http://authoritynutrition.com
- Poppitt, S. D. (2015). Beverage Consumption: Are Alcoholic and Sugary Drinks Tipping the Balance towards Overweight and Obesity?. Nutrients, 7(8), 6700. doi:10.3390/nu7085304
- Rosenburg, M. (2014). 5 Shocking Reasons Why Americans Are Getting Fatter. Salon. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com
- Samuels, M. (2014). Do Energy Drinks Make People Gain Weight?. Livestrong.com, May 2014. Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov
- USDA (2013). National School Lunch Program. United States Department of Agriculture, Retrieved from http://www.fns.usda.gov/