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Obesity is the condition of being overweight. The specific definition of obesity may vary depending on source, but is frequently characterized by individuals who are at least 20 percent above their ideal body weight, based on age and height. Obesity has been linked with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, and coronary heart disease. Worldwide, the number of obese people continues to rise.
Historically, obesity was an uncommon feature of social life. Through much of human history the primary dietary concern was the pursuit of adequate nutrition. In preindustrial environments obtaining and/or growing food was a difficult endeavor. In some societies in the past, being overweight or obese served as a marker of status; the ability of an individual to obtain high-caloric and excess food was affiliated with a higher socioeconomic position.
In the 20th century, the existence of obesity has emerged as a social issue in both developed and developing countries. The increased incidences of being overweight or obese vary in the developed world. The United States, in particular, appears to be facing a growing epidemic, with more than a third of Americans being overweight. In contrast, European nations tend to have lower incidence of obesity; however, the numbers of overweight individuals in many of these nations are also on the rise.
Traditionally, it was believed that obesity was only an issue in developed societies, but it is becoming apparent that obesity is affecting populations in developing societies. One correlation that appears to be associated with growing incidences of obesity in the developing world is the increasing likelihood of a Western diet, which is often more inclusive of meat and carbohydrates, as well as high calorie processed foods. Still, many underdeveloped nations continue to face famine and undernourishment, which are strongly influenced by economics. In these societies, obesity emerges primarily among higher socioeconomic groups.
Industrialization and increasing dependence on and use of technology are affiliated with this shift toward obesity. Technology first enabled the expansion and further development of agriculture, which improved the availability of crop foods for consumption. New means of transportation eased the distribution of food goods within a nation and between nations. Increased supply of diverse food sources, particularly within nations able to afford them, has expanded the choices and palates of many within the developed world. Technology has also fostered the transformation of food crops into high calorie processed foods. The consumption of calorie-dense foods, such as snack goods and soda, has been strongly tied to obesity.
Technology has also changed the types of work people do. In developed nations, many people no longer do much manual labor. This transformation of work has led to decreased calorie spending and has been complimented by increased calorie consumption, leading to obesity. Finally, technology, particularly media such as television, has led to more sedentary leisure activities (also often accompanied by increased calorie consumption) which may also lead to obesity.
- Eric Finkelstein, Christopher J. Ruhm, and Katherine M. Kosa, “Economic Causes and Consequences of Obesity,” Annual Review of Public Health (v.26, 2005);
- Carlos A. Monteiro et , “Socioeconomic Status and Obesity in Adult Populations of Developing Countries: A Review,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization (v.82, 2004);
- Rodolfo M. Nayga, Jr., “Sociodemographic Factors Associated with Obesity in the USA,” Journal of Consumer Studies & Home Economics (v.23, 1999);
- M. Young, “Globalization and Food Scarcity: Novel Questions in a Novel Context?,” Progress in Development Studies (v.4, 2004).