Thinking Sociologically about Obesity Trends

Obesity rates have increased dramatically in the U.S. during the past several decades. While in 1990, the rate of obesity was less than 15 percent across all states, by 2010, every state’s obesity rate raised to at least 20 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Obesity has been more prevalent in the eastern U.S. states; by 2010, more than ten eastern states’ obesity rate was equal to or more than 30 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). These data allow to speak about obesity as an epidemic that has been rapidly spreading and affecting more and more people in each state. 

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Sociologists would approach obesity as a social problem. There is evidence that it leads to drastic consequences for health and affects the quality of life of people. Thinking about obesity as a social problem helps address it as a public health issue instead of an individual problem associated with cognitive reasons and emotional ills. According to symbolic interactionalism, obesity can be seen as a consequence of interactions between people. Individuals may learn from each other that obesity is normal instead of stigmatizing it. Also, commonly accepted symbols, words, and pictures propagate fast food, which leads to overweight. For example, McDonalds, one of the most popular American restaurants, utilizes the figures of large characters from cartoons to communicate that obesity is not a problem to children as well as adults. When interacting socially, people often snack with processed and fast food instead of home-made or low-calories food. This allows people to form positive perceptions of fast food and even encourage obesity. Thus, it can be argued that obesity is socially constructed. 

Per symbolic interactionalism, countering the rising rates of obesity requires more interaction within the environments where normal weight and active lifestyle are shown as popular and meaningful. For example, there can be introduced public health programs where people learn about the benefits of healthy food and exercise and then commonly engage in the activities that help promote a good body mass index.

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