"Obesity" Research Paper

Introduction and Background

“I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open or put them on powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.” --Dean Ornish, M.D.

In the Theory of Leisure Class: Conspicuous Consumption, Thorstein Veblen once wrote, “The ‘successful’ are thin to show that they are assured of their next meal.” This sentence gave insight to why people wanted to be thin. Furthermore, it tends to be a reason why many of us climb on our scales at home each day, and depending on what is read, determines whether we have a good day or a bad day (Beller 264). Whether it’s the unhappy news of the gained weight on the thighs, age creeping up on the body, or perhaps only being uneducated in nutrition. Overall well-being should be the goal for weight control, not only to enhance the body’s appearance (Sobal 81). Being overweight can be helped; as any degree of obesity can be considered one of the most preventable causes of death in America (Frankle et al. 1). Obesity in the United States has grown over the years with no real solution, however vegetarianism can contribute to overall well-being of any individual.

Karlsberg states that obesity is “the condition of being extremely overweight”, being usually about twenty percent over healthy weight (77). Even if one is not obese, but overweight, the problems that obesity has could be the same. Such as heart disease, circulatory problems, high blood pressure, type two diabetes, certain cancers, and arthritis (78). Other troubles associated with obesity include, but are not limited to are: impairing vigor, increasing fatigability, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, hardening of arteries, and the increase of surgical risks. These reasons make obesity the “prime reason for early breakdown of the human body,” says Dr. Charles Glen King, once the scientific director of Nutrition Foundation in 1964 (Diehl 120).

Fewer calories (less energy) are needed to be consumed to maintain current weight as the body ages, which is one of the most common reasons for becoming obese. When an individual eats the same amount as he or she ages, weight will gain slowly, but surely (Stern 43).

Why do people eat more than they spend? Factors that are included in obesity are genetic, environmental, cultural, behavioral, socioeconomic, psychological, or metabolic (Whitney 257). The most common are genetics and psychological (emotional; for the need of ice cream, for example).

Some infant feedings, by genetics, could leaving a child permanently prone to obesity (“The Wholesome Diet” 64). And in a couple circumstances (minor cases rather than the major number of cases of weight problems), overweight is directed to disturbances of the thyroid or pituitary glands, which neglect to develop their secretions correctly (Fishbein 338).

With an emotional attachment to foods, perhaps from physical problems, it could lead to compulsive overeating (Karlsberg 78). Like other factors in obesity, psychological problems that are related to obesity are not the causes, but are the consequences. Sonja and William Connor says “the ‘enormous psychological burden’ obesity imposes on an individual ‘may be the gravest effect on obesity’ ” (166). It’s no wonder, in my experience, that most depressed people are overweight (which could be due to the infamous ice cream).

Nonetheless, the global problem with obesity is that more energy (calories) are consumed than are spent during exercise, no matter if it’s carbohydrates, protein or fat, the excess energy is stored as fat in cells (Whitney 255). “Being under-active may be the single most important contributor to obesity,” says Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes. Experimental data always suggests that the dietary fat in foods eaten influence the body fatness, therefore fat people have a tendency to eat more fat (259). From observing various experiments and the results, it’s obvious that less fat in the diet means less fat in the body. Sonja L. Connor and William E. Connor note that reduced physical activity is the other important obvious role in producing obesity (177). Although food is the source of obesity, many individuals who are fat eat modestly and many who are thin consume the opposite (“The Wholesome Diet” 64). This is because of the range of activity each person exhibits (Karlsberg 78).

The Real Problem

The biggest influences that drive people to diet is that obese people die significantly sooner and more often. Obese people usually die from worse cases of heart, artery, and kidney diseases, and strokes, as well as cancers such as the gall-bladder, type two diabetes, appendicitis, and even accidents happen more (Beller 260). Yet, more often than not, most people are dieting to become more pleasing to the eye than for their own health.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States today. An individual’s chances are increased by his or her gender (more often are males), age, drinking alcohol, smoking, and a high cholesterol in the diet. Most of the saturated fats are converted in the body as cholesterol, which then clogs arteries when too much is present for the body to regulate in a healthful way. With arteries becoming clogged, it makes it difficult for blood to flow. Most people in the United States eat fast food, which includes in most cases a hamburger. One quarter of the calories in a hamburger is just from the saturated fat alone (Salter 27). With dietary modification, lowering the blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels can be achieved, and the risk of coronary heart disease can be decreased dramatically, or at least a much less severe case (Frankle et al. 125).

Cancer, the second major killer in the United States, is also a result from obesity. From the dietary fat, the more that's consumed gives a greater chance of getting a form of cancer. There is also a chance of having it sooner as well as having a worse case with an individual's obesity (Salter 29). Certain cancers are escalated with obesity. In females, there are cancers of the breast, uterus, and gall bladder. For men, it's the prostate. And for either genders, the colon and the rectum. The risks is several times more likely for a person contracting one of these cancers (Conner 166).

Besides heart disease and cancer, any degree of being overweight, depending on each individual's body, can develop type two diabetes. Type two diabetes is when the body is unable to maintain the normal glucose tolerance because of the limited insulin the body can produce (et al. Frankle 152). The National Diabetes Data Group of the United States and the Expert Committee on Diabetes of the World Health Organization estimates "that 60-90% of individuals with type two, the most common diabetes, are obese." It's possible for those people who are obese to lose weight and may no longer have diabetes (147).

Obesity is related like a sibling to nutrition, and experiments have shown that various cancers may be influenced by the dietary factors in each person's nutrition (et al. Frankle 155). However, not all the population's obesity could cause disease or shorten their life expectancy, which could be because of genetics or plain dumb luck (Whitney 261).

The Other Solutions

Graph 1. represents those individuals who have attempted a diet to lose weight in 1990 by age and gender (Dorgan 233).

A slender body is associated with being healthy and beautiful (Sobal 81), therefore our society has a high value on thinness (Beller 261). We prize the small sizes and consider any obesity unsightly and ugly (Salter 25). I believe that at least half of those obese have psychological problems caused by our society's view, because of our culture. "Of all annoyances [physical diseases] that effect human beings, living overweight is the one likely to receive the least sympathy," says Morris Fishbein (338). And from the dirty looks society gives those who are obese, they come back with ways to diet from surgery to taking pills. Graph 1 shown from link (above) shows by age and gender those who have attempted to lose weight.

In surgery, there's the obvious liposuction and stapling the stomach. By altering the anatomy of the stomach in the body, staples are used over a portion of the stomach to make it smaller for digestion, and therefore fill up faster and eat less in a sitting. Besides the dramatic weight loss and long-term side effects, only 50% of those who had the surgery were successful. In the other 50%, the staples were pulled out, the new stomach would enlarge because the patient would eat more than the capacity of the new stomach (et al. Frankle 12). Jaw wiring is also used to prohibit the person’s usual eating behaviors, however once the wires are removed the eat just as before (Storlie and Jordan, eds. 12).

Hormones, such as HCGCheman chorionic gonadotrophin, can be injected into the patient and given a restricted diet of about five hundred calories a day. An almost daily visit to the treatment center is also required (11).

Diuretics can be used to help remove fluid for reducing weight, but also increase a risk of dehydration (“The Wholesome Diet” 78). The point of losing weight is more to lose fat, not water, so in time with eating carbohydrates the weight (which was water anyway) will come back.

One very popular method, next to pills is purging. Either by vomiting or laxatives, these habits are dangerous and the user can later be resistant to treatment (Storlie 12). When using laxatives, it tells the body to move the food through the GI tract quickly, which then reduces absorption, causes diarrhea, and damaging to the intestines (“The Wholesome Diet” 78).

Medicines used as appetite suppressants can temporarily decrease hunger. However, in most cases it can also have side effects such as high blood pressure, dizziness, tremors, a fast heartbeat, hallucinations, and sometimes impotence as well as produce physical psychological dependence ("The Wholesome Diet" 78). Besides the side effects, there have been no evidence that the suppressants can produce long-term weight control. One good reason for this is that no matter if the person is lean or obese, they could eat a considerable amount of the calories in the absence of hunger--which gives good reason that suppressing hunger doesn't affect the type of eating one uses (et al. Frankle 10). Philip E. Gelvin and Thomas H. McGavack states that "at this point, it should be made clear that medicines will not substitute for the basic role which diet must play in the management of all obesities" (29). In other words, the human nation is still looking for that "miracle pill."

The gimmick of a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein says that supposedly a person can lose weight while eating unlimited amount of protein as long as the individual keeps away from sugars and starches. What people see most is the first rapid weight loss; however the weight that was lost is mostly water. Yet, once the smallest amount of carbohydrates is introduced to the body, the water is quickly regained and the diet would then become useless (Stern 39).

The only true way to diet that should be promoted is physical activity. Our society must quit trying to find shortcuts for the best way other then exercising. By exercising regularly, it can provide a faster metabolism, suppress the appetite, and it has the potential for life long fitness (Storlie 13).

For all individuals trying to reduce weight, there isn't one single diet that works (Fishbein 339). By having a life long eating plan rather than a diet for the goal in weight loss, it could be easier and much more likely to keep healthy and the weight off (Whitney 269). By using such things as pills and surgery, it doesn't teach the individuals how to achieve a lifestyle diet that includes eating only enough of food that keeps the body healthy. The person has learned nothing with suppressing their appetite or changing the size of their stomach. It's harder for those who were once obese to remain at a healthy weight. Once the fat cells in the body achieve their maximum size, they divide to give the body more fat cells (255). When fat is lost, the size of the fat cells diminish, however not the number, making it easier to gain the fat back again later (256).

Graph 2. represents those individuals who are obese in 1990 by age and gender (Dorgan 234).

Due to all the inefficient ways to try to lose weight through shortcuts and the fat cells working against the body, it's not wonder that forty-eight million Americans are overweight (Diehl 120) and 40% are children and teenagers are over their ideal weight (Karlsberg 78). In other words, approximately one out of three adults, one out of nine teenagers, and one out of seven children in the United States are now overweight (Whitney 255). In the United States, the prevalence of obesity has raised in 1991 from 12% obese to 17.9% in 1998 (“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”). If the prevalence of the obesity continues the rise at the rate it's going, experts have predicted that by 2230, every adult in the United States could be overweight (255). With two thousand seventy two million, eleven million are extremely overweight today (Connor 167).

Graph 2 shown above exhibits how many people by age and gender who were obese by 1990. For more visual aids, see the rise of obesity in the United States from maps.

The Real Solution

Since natural human diet has been based on grain since civilizations have been growing them in the form of wheat, rice, or corn for the past five thousand years, it should be apart of a person's diet. Unlike the foods and quantities our diet should entail, our society eats far too much meat and too little grains.

Vegetarianism. The real magical pill is in reality, a life long diet that is beneficial in more ways than one. Vegetarianism is a diet without any meat, in other words: without flesh. (Salter 13). This kind of diet is usually high in fiber, lower in total fat, saturated fat, and in cholesterol, which is quite the opposite of what tends to be the factors in diseases related to obesity (Stern 41). I find that ironic.

Veganism is different, and much more restricting an individual's diet to only foods that has no meat and no diary products. Supplements would be necessary for the B12 vitamin and perhaps more. People who become vegans change their diets not only because of being physically healthy, but also because of their morals and perhaps their religion or beliefs. Most vegetarians choose this lifestyle for many reasons other than just losing weight because there are so many benefits.

Graph 3. represents the three choices of meat by how much fat in grams per serving. Each serving is only 3 ounces (Dorgan 230).

A diet with meat increases the intake of cholesterol and fat (as shown in Graph 3 above), including saturated fat-which is what usually raises blood cholesterol (40). The "type of food eaten to produce the weight gain may contribute more to the health problems than the small excess body weight itself," states Sonja and William Connor when speaking of a diet high in meat (167). Experts have said countries that consume the most amount of animal protein the ones who have the highest rates of disease (Krizmanic 52). Without the extra intake of fat and cholesterol, there’s also less likely of chance for getting type two diabetes (Salter 32).

In a vegetarian diet, more vegetables, fruits, and especially grains are eaten in greater quantity when maintaining current body weight , which help protect the body against illnesses. When losing weight, it’s as easy as eating the same volume of food as before, just with healthier choices and without meat. In addition, the foods are usually high in fiber which fill up the stomach quicker and are then less tempted to eat more than needed (26). Any kind of food can be converted to fat. Even if it’s carbohydrates or protein, when eaten in excess, the body can turn it into fat. Unlike when eating fat, with having a vegetarian diet, the usual excess foods are carbohydrates and only three quarters of that food is converted as fat because it takes energy to convert carbohydrates into long term storage. It makes sense that it’s much easier to loose weight and keep it off (14). When eating any healthy diet, it’s common to eat foods low in calories and fat, which is exactly why without meat it’s cutting about half the fat and calories each day (26).

A main concern with being a vegetarian is protein deficiency, when a person's own muscles can't be built well without the amino acids in meat. What few people realize is that amino acids in beans and rice can be used just as easily from those that are in a hamburger--with the exception of less fat and more nutrients (Salter 71).

The younger a person begins this new healthy lifestyle, the lower the risk of coronary heart disease and more likely to remain healthy, just by skipping the meat and the fat-heavy foods of today’s culture. By continuing the normal path of eating meat and fat balanced meals, it can reduce the life span well below normal (33).

Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even flu risks have been decreased with a vegetarian diet. The National Cancer Institute says two out of three causes of cancer are related to the diet (Krizmanic 51). Dietary fat encourages cancer and because this type of lifestyle, which is more abundant in certain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and compounds like carotene (Salter 30). Carotene is a chemical that is converted in the body to vitamin A, and is found in red and orange plants such as carrots.

Environmental degradation is also important to many vegetarians. With more people not eating the meat from animals, and for some even fish, there can be more room for growing food than for herding “food” such as cows and pigs. Meat production uses almost a half of land in the United States. Why? Part of it is needed to grow grain for the livestock. This means that about 70% of the grain is feed to animals, which converts to about seven pounds of grain for one pound of pork; or five pounds of grain for one pound of beef; or three pounds of grain for one pound of chicken (Krizmanic 25). While most of the grain is suited for human consumption, it’s fed to make our greasy hamburgers.

Over six billion animals are slaughtered each year and over 90% of the livestock are raised in confinement. If less people were to eat meat, less animals would be bred to cruelly be killed, and more land could be used to grow food directly for human consumption. Which not only would help the land from erosion caused from the animals, but the waste the animals produce would also be decreased and less would be in lakes and rivers. Nitrates from the manure also contribute into the groundwater and pollute it, which can be another factor for cancer (27).


Obesity as been the most common type of malnutrition and one of the greatest with health hazards to life in the United States today, and it can be prevented (Diehl 120). The solution is as simple as eating the same amount--but with healthier choices and a life long diet, such as vegetarianism. Exercising is also important to keep fit and use up any extra calories from that ice cream at dessert. Nonetheless, some fat is essential for the body as heat, stored energy, insulation, and padding (“The Wholesome Diet” 64). No one cannot “cure” obesity by simply achieving a certain body weight. Eating healthy and keeping active is all apart of a life long daily routine (Whitney 273). No diet should be promoted as a temporary eating plan, but rather a permanent lifestyle for healthy eating (Sobal 81).

Works Cited Page

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