America's Obesity: It's Everyone's Responsibility

In his essay “Obesity: Much of the Responsibility Lies with Corporations”, Yves Engler reports that obesity is rapidly on the rise in the more advanced capitalist nations of the world. Yet is is not the rich people becoming overweight but mostly the poor people of these rich nations (Engler 173). This suggests that since the poorer person will buy less expensive food, cheaper food is more unhealthy and fattening. This supposition is held up when we examine a typical unhealthy high calorie prepared food compared to a typical healthy low calorie prepared food. The high calorie prepared food is much easier to find and less expensive. Our capitalist society promotes producing and buying cheap fattening food, therefore it should be held accountable for the obesity epidemic. We as a people, and not we, individually, are responsible for the rise in obesity.

It is an easy assumption to say that eating healthy and making good food choices is a personal responsibility, when we will not be bothered to look past our noses at the bigger picture. Companies produce and sell fattening food because it is cheapest. People also buy it for the same reason. Working class people often find it the only choice to grab a quick cheap meal in between their work schedule; they are not able to take the time and extra expense of finding something healthy to eat. Many people will say eating healthy is a personal choice and responsibility. Certainly it would be, if we had any other reasonable choices out there. Where is the cheap healthy fast food we can find easily and grab on the run in between our work schedules? Our society makes the right food choices much harder to make, as healthy food is much less accessible.

Fast food outlets continue to expand at an astounding rate, often with government subsidies, especially into poorer neighborhoods (Engler 174) where their cheap convenient food is more readily received. Fast food and junk food companies are even inserting themselves into schools, bribing schools with money (Engler 176), so that our children’s snack and drink options are cheap and fattening. The food industry’s ruthless advertising can be directly linked to why people consume more unhealthy food. Children are bombarded by fun looking advertising meant to make them trust unhealthy fattening fast food and junk food as a good food choice. Adults are often promised more for their money with extra large portions as a manipulation to buy fast food. In turn these large portions only serve to increase the amount we eat, and our obesity (Engler 175).

Is is not just the fast food and junk food companies benefiting from all this. The diet industry racks in 50 billion dollars annually, as it manipulates people who have given in to the cheap easy route into feeling guilty about their weight. Diets have proven time and again not to work, and people seem to end up weighing more in the end than they ever did before. This is a vicious but lucrative cycle for the diet industry. Pharmaceutical companies peddle weight loss drugs, which some people trust to be an easy route to fixing the damage they have done when buying easy cheap food. Surgeons perform expensive gastric bypass surgery operations on patients who are desperate to curb their calorie intake, making $25,000 and up on each of the 100,000 or more operations done each year (Engler 174). These people are loving the obesity problem, and you can be sure they are not doing much to find the root of the problem and stop it. It is slightly ironic that the amount people spend on fattening food, $110 billion annually, is less than the annual costs, $120 billion annually, of treating obesity related conditions in America.

Seeing that their healthcare is made more expensive by their cheap eating habits, why do people not buy the more expensive healthy food and gain a healthy body out of the extra effort? One reason is that it does take extra effort. Another problem is that most of the people becoming obese are low income and receive free healthcare from welfare. Their healthcare is paid for out of society’s taxes, therefore this part costs them nothing. Our society not only propagates obesity, it takes further responsibility and pays for it. Radley Balko suggests in one of his essays that if these people had to pay their own obesity-related healthcare costs, instead of making it society’s problem, they may not find this fattening food so cheap (Balko 158).

Some ways we could change this are to make sure people are more informed about the choices they make, and to make people more responsible for the consequences of their choices. It is hard for someone to say no to the convenience of a fast food burger if they are not aware of the consequences of that choice. Some places are now being required to display the nutrition information of their prepared food. This is a good first step, but it needs to be pushed further with reminders on the affects of overindulgence in their product. The brightly colored advertising and fun characters might not be so attractive and trustworthy if they came with a warning or reminder that too much of the advertised product would raise their weight and their healthcare bill. In turn, these proposed reminders would have much more effect if obesity-related healthcare became each person’s individual responsibility.

Only when we begin to see that our society is to blame for our obesity epidemic will we be able to see any way to fight back effectively. Our capitalist emphasis on making money at any cost, and using manipulative advertising directed mostly at our children, leads directly to the cause of the problem. Welfare paying for obesity-related healthcare problems also takes the responsibility off the individual and makes it everyone’s problem. It is unreasonable to say it is the individual’s fault that they can not find healthy fast food because a quick healthy meal is much less available and more expensive than fattening foods. If we can change the system so that choosing healthy food is a reasonable personal responsibility, instead of the time consuming and financial burden it is now, we may begin to see things in a healthy new light.


Engler, Yves. “Obesity: Much of the Responsibility Lies with Corporations” “They Say/I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing with Readings. Eds. Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein and Russel Durst. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 172-180. Print.

Balko, Radley. “What You Eat is Your Business” “They Say/I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing with Readings. Eds. Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein and Russel Durst. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 157-160. Print.