Obesity in the United States: Public Health or Personal Issue?

Madison Seda

It is an undeniable fact that obesity has been on the rise. According to David Blumenthal, M.D. and Shanoor Seervai of the Common Wealth Fund, “nearly 40 percent of American adults were obese in 2015–16, up from 34 percent in 2007–08.” The percentage of adults with obesity keeps growing every year, which begs the question: is obesity a public or personal health issue? 

Many argue that obesity should be a public health issue because it has now begun affecting more than just the one individual, and has become such a widespread problem that America must take steps to reduce it. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity has become the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and the epidemic has affected the economy as well, with the medical costs of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of obesity in 2008 estimated at $147 billion. 

Companies and the government can help fight obesity by changing both policies and our environment in order to promote healthier eating habits. Mary T. Bassett, MD, a supporter of obesity being a public health issue, said it can be achieved by “reducing ‘supermarket wastelands’ and correcting food pricing structures in low-income communities. It means improving park safety and tackling traffic flow so that it is easier to exercise.” Her and others’ solution is to fix what our supermarkets have in them and encourage more exercise, which could lead to a healthier lifestyle. 

Others, including much of the food industry, disagree about obesity being a public health issue, claiming obesity is caused by personal choices that an individual makes. Health Affairs writes that the “notion that obesity is caused by the irresponsibility of individuals, and hence not corporate behavior or weak or counterproductive government policies,” which is the main argument against obesity being a public health matter. Their take on obesity is that Americans need to be more responsibility for their own actions, and blame themselves instead of finding fault in things around them. Harvard Public Health posted an article with a more neutral stance, coming to the conclusion that though it is partly the industry that allows people access to such destructive foods, it is also the people who are consuming it and don’t stop themselves. A solution to this, they say, could be for families to prevent childhood obesity as much as possible, which would most likely stop it from happening in their adult life. 

No matter your stance on the obesity crisis in America, it is clear that the status quo hasn’t been working, and either the government or our culture have to shift their priorities to help our people and future generations to come. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.