Why are we Obese?

22 Sep

Several days ago, Hank Cardello focused on the consumer’s role in our current battle against obesity. As a Kinesiology major, his take on why consumers should be held accountable intrigued me. He argues that much of it can be blamed on our personality type. He even goes as far as to define two major groups of consumers:

Consumers are not a homogeneous group like grocers, restaurateurs, or food activists are. They run the gamut from solid-like behavior (that ability to consistently say “no”) to a more combustible gaseous state (feeling they must say “yes”).

He later explains that those with gas-like behavior tend to be more susceptible to weight gain than those with solid-like behavior. I agree with him to a certain extent.

While I do believe that personality has a lot to do with how we eat and view food, I do not think it’s the root cause. If you go one layer deeper, it becomes obvious that environmental factors contribute to how our personalities dictate our relationship with food.

One main environmental factor that commands more attention is parenting. As my professor put it: If your parents are overweight they’re more likely to overeat. If they overeat, you overeat as well because they’re the ones who set the food on the table. And it’s not like you’ll magically change your eating habits the day you turn 18.

Even if your New Year’s resolution is to adopt a healthier lifestyle by exercising more and eating healthier, you probably won’t succeed unless you’re like Jack LaLanne. It’s a sad, but true fact about how we work as human beings.

So what can we do? Most of our initiatives to stop rising obesity levels depend on individuals changing who they are. Hank Cardello sums up my response to the efficacy of this approach:

But demanding that consumers change who they are is a dead-end street, as evidenced by our lack of progress.

This implies that comprehensive, permanent change must come from another source.

Easier said than done. Even with Michelle Obama’s new wellness initiative called “Let’s Move” program targeting parents, school physical education programs, and consumer education on nutrition facts, how effective can these programs be?

Look at the Healthy People 2000 initiative. Funded by the US government, this program aimed towards improving nation’s health through increasing physical activity and adopting healthier eating habits has had little to no success. After 10 years we’re still getting fatter.

So what can we do? Even though I hesitate to agree with Michelle Obama’s one year goal, I support her approach. Parents need to be educated on how to provide optimal environments that teach kids healthy habits, and children need to learn how to retain these habits on their own.

So kids, listen to your parents if they tell you to eat something healthy (even if it might not be delicious) and speak up if you don’t think you should be eating one of those big breakfast meals from McDonalds (even if you think you can finish it.) And parents, just put some goddamn vegetables on the grocery list. You can keep ice cream on the list–just remember to pair the bad with the good.

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