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Obesity: Societal solutions vs. individual’s choices

on May 15, 2012

A friend of mine posted this link on Facebook and asked for people’s thoughts. It sparked a big debate on whether people are obese because of the way our society has become, or as a result of their personal choices. To me it’s a little of both.

Let’s start with children and schools, because these are the members of our obese society that have the least personal choice.

Societal problem: We’ve eliminated a lot of physical activity in schools because of the lack of time and an emphasis on other more academic subjects. Societal solution: Extend school days to include 45 minutes of PE a day, taught by PE instructors (not teachers).

Societal problem: Children do not play as much at recess. They are not used to it. They play indoors a lot because of parental fears for safety. Societal solution: Continue to fund/improve open spaces and parks, especially in urban areas. Fund community activities that get people out of their houses. Fund open gyms like Natalie has in Amsterdam and I have in Benicia, safe places to bring children to play indoors and out. Make these place available in the evenings and on weekends too. Personal choice: Parents need to limit the amount of time their kids spend watching TV and playing video games. They need to say, “Here’s a kickball. Go outside and play.” I don’t know how to force parents to do this.

Societal problem: Children are being served processed and packaged food in the cafeteria. It meets the bare minimum of nutrition guidelines, but fosters a love for generally unhealthy foods such as burgers, waffles, pizza, and chicken nuggets. Societal solution: Increase funding to schools with the condition that it be spent on more food workers and on healthy ingredients so that every child is served healthy food everyday. Do away with 5 choices. A child has so many choices in the cafeteria and their both loaded with vegetables and whole grains.

Societal problem: Children eat the junk that they’re parents buy for them. Societal solution: Educate parents at the beginning of every school year about what their child should bring to school for snacks and lunch and ban unhealthy drinks and foods. Encourage them to follow the same guidelines at home. Personal choice: You cannot really make a parent feed their child healthy foods. Part of me wants to punish the parents of obese children, but part of me is repelled by the idea of that much government influence. I think the solution is just more education and creating an environment where it’s possible and even easy to feed your child healthy foods.

Can I make an adult eat less and exercise more? No. And I don’t think I should. They are an adult and they can make their own choices. But children do not have a choice, and all should be given the same healthy start in life. Therefore we do need to make societal changes so that those with the least power and control over their lives are given more of a chance.

To do this, we should:

– End government subsidies on crops that make high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and other obesity-promoting foods very cheap.

– Ban food ads on children’s television programs.

– Fund obesity fighting programs in schools and communities.

Here are some more controversial ideas that I’m not sure how I feel about:

– A tax on sodas

– Subsidizing organic farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables

– Health insurance discounts for people at a normal weight and who don’t smoke

– Special loans and funding for a new type of fast food restaurant that provides low cost, healthy foods or tax deductions for existing companies to offer healthier alternatives on their existing menus

– Mandating some healthy food/drink options at malls, sports arenas, and amusement parks

So while I think that a lot of the problem is caused by personal choice, it is also due to the environment we live in. We need to fix certain aspects of our society (starting with children) to make it possible for people to make better choices.


One response to “Obesity: Societal solutions vs. individual’s choices

  1. natalie says:

    my dad’s sister and brother in law are healthy, very religious people. they don’t drink or smoke, they exercise moderately, and they are healthy weight. they don’t seem to eat very well, but they stay in shape.

    they told me that they are on this community health plan with other members of their church. a group thing. it’s a pool, and they all put in money and use care when they need it. the trick is not to need it much. it’s there for women’s health and colonoscopies and kids and cancer and big stuff, but you can’t be on blood pressure meds and all that. and, you can’t drink regularly or smoke.

    thought this was an interesting idea. makes sense for them and in a lot of ways it seems fair.

    of course, easy for me to say as i am currently pretty healthy, (knock on wood). but, i’m glad those options exist.

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