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Nature vs Nurture: Who is Responsible for Obesity in America?

September 7, 2010
mcd_obesity

Image: vlauria

To start off my Exercise Psychology class,* my professor asked everyone to talk about influences on their level of physical activity.

Pretty much everyone in the class attributed their dedication to exercise to their personal convictions and insisted that society had no influence.

But you have to ask:

1. Who is unaffected by society’s ideals of body shape?

2. Most fitness professionals (which is the majority of my fellow students) were former athletes. Do children get involved in athletics without the encouragement of friends, coaches and teachers?

3. Let’s say that adhering to a rigorous exercise schedule really is down to one’s personal dedication. Don’t we learn commitment and work ethic from society? From our parents and mentors?

So, the question is – if the government, our doctors, our parents, teachers and friends all want us to be healthy, why aren’t we?

As the opinions of my classmates show, Americans favor an individualistic outlook. We believe that we each make our own choices and are personally responsible for our own successes and failures.

Likewise, we have traditionally used an individual approach to encourage heath. Trainers and doctors promote personal healthy habits in the form of diets and gym memberships.

But is it possible to reach 250 million overweight or obese Americans on an individual level?

So far, this approach has not been successful.  For all the people who have committed to healthy eating and an active lifestyle, the trend toward fast food and desk work has turned many more in the opposite direction.

Many experts insist that the only solution is broader, public campaigns to change society as a whole: subsidies for the health industry, reinforcing lifestyle choices in schools, health insurance breaks for the physically fit, exercise programs in the workplace, legislation to limit advertising of processed foods.

But in a country that values individual choice, will our government act to limit private industries that encourage poor health habits? Will a blanket approach to nutrition and fitness education work on a society full of individuals? Will these changes be seen as discriminating against the overweight and obese?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but we had better figure it out soon. Hypokinetic disease reduces productivity and increases health care costs. It reduces our global competitiveness and the quality of our leaders, soldiers and role-models. What we see as an individual problem affects our whole society.

So, what’s the solution? Can we change the world one personal training session at a time or does our country need a major health overhaul? How do we go about it?

*that’s right, pretty soon I will be able to use my Jedi mind tricks to MAKE YOU get healthy.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 11:54 am

    Malcolm Gladwell (author of “Tipping Point”) made an interesting point at this year’s IHRSA Convention. He said change won’t come from “above,” it will come from someone somewhere doing something that leads to a spark/ tipping point. He was thinking that making fitness fun in some way would work, but his main point was that it will come from the general population, not a mandate. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  2. susanruns permalink
    September 9, 2010 9:57 am

    I think that the country needs a little bit of both…a major health overall with a concentration on health PROMOTION versus fixing the problem after years and years of poor nutrition/exercise. While it’s more cost-effective in the long run to prevent health issues, no one wants to invest in health promotion since you don’t see immediate results, whereas performing knee replacements on overworked joints from obesity show results.

    It’s so backwards. Working in a hospital showed me the results of all long-term health issues, and it drives me crazy. I think smaller health initiatives that reach out to people could be helpful.

    As for nature vs. nurture…I always think that this is an interesting concept because I am a fraternal twin, so we had the same family environment, just a different mix of genes. However, I run marathons, eat healthy, and have never weighed over 120 pounds, but my sister eats out all the time, hardly exercises, and is probably twice my weight. I think a lot of being healthy is personal choice…you have to get people to see why it is important to them, but in the end, if someone doesn’t want to be healthy or exercise, they won’t.

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