Society’s ideal body shape and size has shifted tremendously over the centuries. Throughout human history, the ideal body was more ample and stout than today’s athletic and slim ideal. In ancient Rome, fleshy bodies were associated with status and wealth. The plump were those who were able to feed themselves during a time of widespread food insecurity, and were often seen as being more fertile and often compared to goddesses 1. However, expectations have changed and the corpulent body type has since become associated with health problems rather than prosperity. Obesity as a health problem is highly influenced by the environment in which the patient lives, and so some of the best ways to combat the problem require changing communities and lifestyles.
In 2014, more than 600 million adults and 42 million children were considered to be obese or overweight, according to the World Health Organization2. A leading cause of rising obesity rates is due to an increase in sedentary activities, particularly those linked to watching television. A study conducted by Lisa Powell and her colleagues found that one in five television advertisements showcase junk food or nutrient poor foods. The study found that children who viewed food advertisements were more likely to select the junk food shown than children who had not viewed the advertisements at all. Therefore they concluded that children who watch TV not only lead a more inactive lifestyle but they add to their health problems by being more likely to choose and consume nutrient poor foods3.
The future of the obesity epidemic may not be as bleak as health reports make it appear. In an article by Mahshid Dehghan and her colleagues, they suggested that prevention and management of obesity must be a multi-sectoral effort with policy and community changes. Their first suggestion relates to urban planning and recommends that parks and sidewalks be made more accessible in order to promote a more active lifestyle. Secondly, they suggested banning junk food advertisements during children’s television programming, to decrease their exposure to unhealthy foodstuffs. Currently, there are advertising bans in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, who have seen a dramatic decrease in junk food purchases by children. Lastly, Dehghan and her colleagues suggest putting the onus on the food industry by taxing them for adding sugars and additives to foods, as well as placing mandatory government regulated nutrition labels on all manufactured foods. The most effective method for preventing obesity are those that target children and focus on education and reducing sedentary activities without forcing drastic changes in consumption or exercise4.
The implication behind obesity has changed from a mark of class and fruitfulness to one of laziness and health problems. In order to rein in the obesity epidemic, policy changes are needed whether it is in the form of taxation, healthy urban planning initiatives or tighter marketing regulations. With these multi-sectoral suggestions, there may be a drastic decrease in obesity linked health concerns in the future.
- Bradley, M. (2011). Obesity, corpulence and emaciation in Roman art. Papers of the British School at Rome 79 (79), 1-41.
- World Health Organization (2015). Obesity and Overweight. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
- Powell, L. M., Szcypka, G., & Chaloupka, F. J. (2007). Adolescent exposure to food advertising on television. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 33(4S), 251-256.
- Dehghan, M., Aktar-Danesh, N., & Merchan, A. T. (2005). Childhood obesity, prevalence and prevention. Nutrition Journal 4(1), 24-24.