Obesity is one of the most prevalent issues in US healthcare. As it stands, obesity rates in America are at 42.7%, meaning that nearly every second individual is suffering from excessive weight (Congdon, 2017). This percentage is traditionally higher in poorer communities and is intrinsically connected to their lack of access to quality and healthy foods, coupled with overreliance on fast food (Congdon, 2017). As a result, the vulnerable populations develop obesity-related diseases that further impact their financial and health capital. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the problem, past and present interventions, implications for social work, and potential alternative solutions to the obesity problem.
Demographics of the Population
According to the US census, over 40 million people in the US live below the poverty line (Mitra & Brucker, 2019). That percentage increased due to the COVID-19 epidemic since many of these people lost their jobs or had their hours cut, thus dropping their potential income. Poor individuals constitute a varied demographic, ranging from individuals born into generational poverty to single mothers, the elderly, the uneducated, as well as various minorities exploited by various racial and economic agents (Mitra & Brucker, 2019). Poverty is identified in the US by a certain income threshold, currently considered at below 50,000 dollars a year for a family of 4, or below 12,800 dollars a year for an individual (Mitra & Brucker, 2019). Discrimination and oppression are imposed upon them not just by the government but also by the economic system – places with a variety of cheap healthy foods, like Walmart, are notorious for avoiding poor areas, which are instead replaced by fast-food joints. It is also much more difficult for poor people to afford health insurance (Mitra & Brucker, 2019).
Past and Present Interventions
The majority of government-led interventions against poverty revolved around providing financial help to individuals below a certain threshold to help sustain them above their natural poverty line (Mitra & Brucker, 2019). This approach was criticized for making people dependent on government handouts and essentially trapping them in a cycle of poverty (Reamer & Reamer, 2018). If they try to improve their station, they will lose the benefits of government assistance, resulting in a net loss of more work (Reamer & Reamer, 2018). This was perceived as a great demotivator for those trying to get out of poverty. Alternative programs provided food stamps and supplies on similar principles to financial aid already discussed.
Implications for Ethics, Ethical Dilemmas, and the Social Work Profession
The ethics of social work revolve around the concepts of benevolence, non-maleficence, and respecting the decisions and autonomy of those receiving help. The ethical dilemmas, as showcased by previous approaches, revolve around making people dependent on help versus allowing them a chance to escape poverty (Reamer & Reamer, 2018). The latter is associated with more risk and potentially more resources spent, which is something considered wasteful by some social workers, who would prefer to have many survive than fewer thrive (Reamer & Reamer, 2018). Utilitarian ethics may lead to inconclusive results, while other ethical frameworks may not be entirely applicable to the situation.
Solutions offered to poor people should be enablers and not crutches to overly rely upon without having the means to escape. One of the biggest problems for poor people has been the lack of affordable healthy foods in their neighborhood, coupled with the expense of owning a car. The government should subsidize affordable transportation, public transit systems, and social food markets in poor areas as means of reducing obesity from fast food and unhealthy eating.
Obesity is a significant issue for the poor in America, affecting many different groups of individuals. The lack of healthy food is cited as one of the main reasons for obesity among these people. Previous attempts to solve the crisis by providing bailouts have resulted in dependency and failure. A better solution would involve developing the infrastructure and providing affordable healthy markets to poor localities, signifying a departure from unhealthy eating, with better long-term results.
Congdon, P. (2017). Variations in obesity rates between US counties: Impacts of activity access, food environments, and settlement patterns. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(9), 1023.
Mitra, S., & Brucker, D. (2019). Monitoring multidimensional poverty in the United States. Economics Bulletin, 39(2), A122.
Reamer, F., & Reamer, F. G. (2018). Social work values and ethics. Columbia University Press.