Sociology of Health and Illness
Obesity has become a global medical and social challenge due to the increasing number of people who suffer from this disease. More to say, this tendency has turned worldwide. In particular, in the USA, obesity is on the list of top-10 causes of mortality. This paper is an attempt at the analysis of medical and sociological reasons for this phenomenon and possible ways to decrease mortality because of obesity.
Obesity is a dangerous health condition from a medical viewpoint. As Atkinson (2005) states, “obesity is not a single disease. More than 300 different genes and gene markers have been identified that are associated with obesity, and there are numerous environmental factors that appear to be necessary for the expression of obesity” (p. 105). From a medical perspective, obesity has a wide range of consequences for human health. Thus, excess weight causes a rise of blood pressure. However, only 10% of people without weight problems suffer from hypertension as compared to overweight people since all of them have high pressure. In addition to that, the development of cardiac and pulmonary insufficiency and coronary heart disease accompany obesity. Moreover, obesity can be the reason for malignant tumors and cholelithiasis. Overweight people have a high risk of dying of heart attacks because of cholesterol and fat on their vascular walls. Obesity occurs as the transformation of metabolic processes in the human organism due to the energetic imbalance, disorder of central regulation of metabolism, hormonal disorder, and enzymatic days adaptation.
However, the prevalence of obesity is not solely a medical problem. In general, the social causes of obesity are the low level of education, low money income, and difficulties in family life. The absence of education may not allow people to evaluate the risks of dangerous diets or unhealthy products. Furthermore, poverty is an obstacle on the way to buying organic and high-quality food. Depression caused by problems in relationships may bring about obesity too.
At the same time, there are various sociological approaches to a scientific explanation of the analyzed phenomenon. For instance, according to Hoffman (2001), “the risk of becoming obese increases across all socioeconomic classes as a result of improved access to food, decreased physical activity, and the consumption of “western” diets” (p. 36). Therefore, the core sociological cause of obesity is urbanization that has made two-thirds of the world’s population live in cities (Hoffman, 2001). Additionally, Hoffman (2001) affirms that people, who move to the urban areas, tend to rely on others in the food production and depend on the increasing amount of energy that their organism requires to cope with the stress of living in cities. In addition to that, the level of physical activity becomes lower due to the specificity of labor spread in the cities. Nowadays in the epoch of informational society, the number of people, who work physically, becomes lower. Therefore, the decline in energy expenditure leads to the problem of being overweight.
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Hoffman (2001) considers this problem global and suggests the macro approach to solving it. Thus, governments must create programs in international nutrition to educate the population and advocate a healthy lifestyle (Hoffman, 2001). In my opinion, such a way to solve the problem of obesity is wise because it considers it as a significant challenge that requires the mutual efforts of various social groups. However, the weakness of this approach is the inattention to the personal level of this problem, which is the necessity for psychologists to work with individuals who suffer from obesity.
Another approach to the problem of obesity stresses the absence of one central cause of this problem. Among the factors that lead to becoming overweight are: “the lack of physical activity and excessive inactivity” (Ebbeling, Pawlak, & Ludwig, 2002, p. 475), unhealthy diets, and family problems. The influence of communication mediums, home environment, and the tendencies of mass consumption lead to the increasing risk of obesity. According to the representatives of the analyzed approach, the only way to solve this problem is to eat less and be more physically active (Ebbeling, Pawlak, & Ludwig, 2002). Therefore, this approach pays attention to the micro-level, considering individual self-perfection to be the key to success in overcoming obesity.
At the same time, Ebbeling, Pawlak, and Ludwig (2002) point the opportunity to help people to cope with obesity with the help of involvement in other social contexts. For instance, it may be helpful to strengthen the relationships inside the family to have psychological support in the struggle with obesity. In addition to that, other professional social spheres may be helpful as a tool of attention switching. In my opinion, this approach has no weaknesses because it perceives obesity as a complex phenomenon and suggests various ways of its overcoming it that can be useful for everybody. In addition to that, the analyzed approach is fruitful because it emphasizes the necessity of individual efforts to overcome obesity.
To sum up, obesity has become a global problem in recent decades. It has become evident that this condition has medical and sociological foundations and causes, and it is an integral phenomenon, requiring personal and social efforts. There are different approaches to the analysis of the social factors of obesity at the macro and micro levels. Both analyzed approaches stress the conflicts in relationships, modern lifestyle, the influence of media, the absence of physical activities, and urbanization as the most significant social causes of obesity.