Health disparity refers to a higher burden of illness, injury, disability, or mortality among some groups of people compared to others. The concept refers to differences that exist between groups in a given society related to health insurance coverage, access to and use of care, and quality of care. Health disparity is closely linked with social, environmental, or economic disadvantages, and is commonly viewed through the lens of race and ethnicity although it largely occurs in a broad range of dimensions, such as socioeconomic status, sexual identity, and orientation, language, gender, location, and disability status. The United States federal and state governments have put in place efforts to address issues of health disparities affecting different groups in the American society including low-income groups, women, children, older adults, people of color, and others. Numerous health disparities are experienced across the United States in obesity, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and other aspects. Obesity is the most prevalent chronic disease, and due to health disparities, the chronic disease has contributed to high rates of morbidity and mortality across the United States, particularly amongst the minority groups (African Americans), children, and those living in the urban areas. In the past three decades, the country has witnessed a dramatic increase in the prevalence of the condition, whereby Hispanics, African Americans, and other minority groups have been largely affected. In fact, it has become a national crisis that various levels of United States’ governments are putting efforts to address to prevent the minority groups across the nation from being adversely affected. The prevalence of the condition has been influenced by various aspects including social, economic, and environmental determinants. This paper explores the social determinants of obesity, its epidemiology, cultural considerations, and health care literacy challenges related to the disease.
Health disparities related to obesity across the United States are caused by several factors such as social determinants. Some of the social determinants of health that contribute to obesity include culture, income inequality, and food availability.
Culture is one of the social determinants that have obesity. Culture permeates every aspect of an individual’s life, including exercise and body image perception. Work culture is one of the cultural aspects that can have a strong influence on the eating and activity habits of an individual, as well as, his or her weight (Lim & Thanoon, 2013). Work culture can contribute to obesity when an individual does not have the flexibility to go out to a gym or even have a walk in the neighborhood.
Income inequality affects individuals’ eating and exercise habits. Statistics show that individuals from high-income families are at high risk of obesity compared to those from high-income households (Hu, 2008). This is because individuals from high-income households can access sufficient finances, thus they can purchase junky foods that contain high fats, calories, and refined sugars that might contribute to obesity. Although those from high-income families can get more control over their lives and afford resources such as gym, nutritional counseling, spa visits, and specially prepared food, all of which can help in weight control, obesity is still a major problem within such groups.
Food availability is another social determinant of obesity. Statistics show that individuals who can easily access junky foods are often at high risk of developing obesity compared to those who do not eat such foods often (Hu, 2008). Junky foods contribute to obesity whenever an individual does not engage in regular exercise.
Epidemiology of Obesity
Obesity is prevalent among adults across the United States. It is believed that adults who lack high school or college education are the most affected across the United States. The rates of obesity amongst adults who might have not attained high school or college education across the country stood at 35 percent as of 2018 (“Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps,” 2019). The rates were followed by adults who may have graduated from high school (33.1 percent), then adults with some college education (33.0 percent), and then adults who may have graduated from college (24.7 percent) (“Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps,” 2019). Obesity rates are high in various states across the country including Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Incidence at the National Level
The obesity rate across the United States has steadily increased since the initial 1962 recording of 23 percent (“Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps,” 2019). National Health Statistics show that by 1997, the rate of obesity across the United States had increased to 39.4 percent, 44.5 percent by 2004, and 56.6 percent by 2007 (“Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps,” 2019). According to the statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (38.5 percent) of adults across the United States had developed obesity by 2014. Approximately 42.4 percent of adults across the country were obese as of 2017 (“Adult Obesity Facts,” 2020). This population comprised 43 percent men, and 41.9 percent women (“Adult Obesity Facts,” 2020). Obesity at the national level has adversely affected adults, particularly men.
Incidence at the State Level
Arkansas is ranked as one of the most obese states in the United States. The obesity rate in the state has significantly increased since 1995. In 1995, the prevalence of the condition was approximately 17 percent, and, in 2003, it increased to 25.2 percent (Davis, 2019). In 2016, the incidence had increased to 34.5 percent (Davis, 2019). As of 2018, the rate had increased to 35 percent, and in 2019, the rate rose to 37.1 percent (Davis, 2019). As of 2017, at least 16.2 percent of individuals aged between 10-17 years in Arkansas had developed the condition (“State Obesity Data,” n.d.). Besides, 21.7 percent of high school students across the state were obese by 2017 (“State Obesity Data,” n.d.). Some of the factors that might have contributed to the significant increase in the obesity rate across the state include poverty, rurality, the prevalence of food deserts, and the low rate of educational attainment amongst its residents (Davis, 2019). Obesity in Arkansas has been on the increase since 1995, and this chronic condition has largely affected individuals aged 10-17 years.
Different aspects of culture influence the rate of obesity. For example, culture contributes to overweight because it defines what type of foods individuals eat. Given societies eat different foods that they feel are aligned to their culture. In some instances, various societies make food choices that may be unhealthy and they may eat excessively; thus, contributing to obesity within that particular community. Culture is also associated with where people live and what resources are available in a particular region. These shortlisted aspects play a role in determining what choices of food individuals in a particular region or area make and eat. For instance, some individuals may live in areas where consumption of fast foods is the norm due to their lost costs, and refrain from taking fresh fruits and vegetables due to their high costs. Such individuals may end up developing obesity in the long run due to the high calories, refined sugars, and fats present in fast foods. Culture contributes to obesity as it determines the type of choices individuals make related to how they live.
HealthCare Literacy Challenges
Health literacy challenges is associated with individuals who live in rural areas and various states such as Arkansas. Healthcare literacy has become an important national health agenda item in addressing disparities related to obesity in the United States. It is a strategy for reducing health disparities and increasing people’s control over health and the ability to seek information and take responsibility for health. Nevertheless, due to the low educational attainment rate across various states in the country, enhancing individuals’ literacy related to obesity has been a great challenge.
The United States is experiencing numerous health disparities related to obesity, cancer, and stroke. Obesity is one of the leading national health problems across the United States. It contributes to a high number of deaths every year across the country. Health disparities related to obesity have been contributed to by various social determinants such as culture, food availability, and income inequality. Additional factors that have contributed to the health disparities related to obesity include high rates of poverty, low educational attainment rate, among other factors. Due to low literacy levels, the federal and state governments have experienced a significant challenge in educating many Americans, particularly those from the rural areas on what practices they ought to adopt to address health disparities in relation to obesity.
Adult Obesity Facts. (2020, June 29). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps. (2019, October 29). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/prevalence-maps.html#:~:text=35% or more adults had, and the West (26.9%).
Davis, A. (2019, September 13). Arkansas’ obesity rate yo-yos back to 3rd place. Retrieved from https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/sep/13/arkansas-obesity-rate-yo-yos-back-to-3r/#:~:text=Using%20data%20from%20a%20different,%20among%20children%20ages%2010-17
Hu, F. B. (2008). Social Determinants of Obesity. Obesity Epidemiology, 342-376. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195312911.003.0017
Lim, C., & Thanoon, O. (2013). Social and Ethnic Determinants of Obesity. Obesity, 13-21. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-416045-3.00002-9
State Obesity Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://stateofchildhoodobesity.org/states/ar/