Sit, Drink, Eat, Repeat

By Nina Preußler

Did you know that there are now more dan­ger­ous­ly over­weight than mal­nour­ished peo­ple in the world? With over one third of their pop­u­la­tion clas­si­fied as obese, the Unit­ed States is one of the coun­tries most affect­ed. It’s easy to jump to con­clu­sions and dis­miss the ‘obe­si­ty epi­dem­ic’ as a symp­tom of ever-grow­ing lazi­ness in the West­ern world. Instead, the tripling of the obe­si­ty rate in the U.S. over the last 50 years can most­ly be attrib­uted to obe­so­genic envi­ron­ments. You’re ask­ing your­self what that is?

 An obe­so­genic envi­ron­ment pro­motes obe­si­ty or encour­ages behav­iors that pro­mote exces­sive weight gain. Such an envi­ron­ment could man­i­fest itself in ridicu­lous­ly large buck­ets of pop­corn and cups of soft drinks at a cin­e­ma. It can be rec­og­nized in the tech­nol­o­gy designed for cap­tur­ing your atten­tion and keep­ing you slumped over your screen for hours on end. It becomes appar­ent when tak­ing your bike or walk­ing is so dan­ger­ous that you would rather take your car to the super­mar­ket down the street.

Adher­ing to the mot­to “get them ear­ly,” large fast-food com­pa­nies play a major role in con­tribut­ing to an obe­so­genic envi­ron­ment. For instance, Coca-Cola, Burg­er King, or Ken­tucky Fried Chick­en often place ads for their prod­ucts dur­ing children’s pro­grams, thus tar­get­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble group. Chil­dren and teenagers are exposed to more than 40,000 ads per year, many of which adver­tise fast food and soft drinks. As taste buds devel­op ear­ly on in life, the high-caloric, fat­ty, or sug­ary foods will for­ev­er influ­ence a child’s taste, even lat­er on as an adult. Of course, this is only one aspect to effect obe­si­ty, a con­di­tion that is also influ­enced by genet­ic and psy­cho­log­i­cal psy­cho­log­i­cal factors.

Once you are in this obe­so­genic envi­ron­ment – an envi­ron­ment that pro­motes exces­sive weight gain – the ques­tion sud­den­ly aris­es, “How can any­one not become over­weight?” When your envi­ron­ment con­stant­ly tells you to eat more, to drink more, and to move around less, it comes as no sur­prise that rough­ly 110 mil­lion peo­ple in the U.S. suf­fer from obe­si­ty.  That an esti­mat­ed 170–260 bil­lion dol­lars of med­ical costs spent each year are relat­ed to obe­si­ty. That 10% of annu­al deaths can be attrib­uted to obesity.

Obe­si­ty is not due to per­son­al fail­ure but an inevitable result of U.S. cul­ture, a cul­ture that is rapid­ly spread­ing to more and more coun­tries all over the world. Rec­og­niz­ing in what ways a cer­tain envi­ron­ment con­tributes to obe­si­ty is essen­tial for design­ing a world that’s no longer obe­so­genic but instead pro­motes healthy diets and phys­i­cal activ­i­ty – a world that will help peo­ple escape the end­less cycle of sit, drink, eat, repeat.

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Nina Preußler is a stu­dent of Glob­al Envi­ron­men­tal and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Stud­ies at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. Also, they are a pas­sion­ate bad­minton play­er and a qui­et lan­guage enthu­si­ast. Their lat­est inter­ests include learn­ing Man­darin and becom­ing bet­ter at doing nothing.