It's too simple just to blame individuals for their excess weight. Throughout most of history, people have struggled to find enough calories to survive day to day. Today, in industrialized societies, many people are faced with a huge over supply of cheap, tasty food, laden with fat and sugars, together with a lack of opportunity to exercise. That combination is a hard one to deal with.
The causes of obesity
Increasingly, people live in places where they need to get around in cars. A working day often means long hours sitting in front of a computer. Low wages and high prices for healthier options drive people to fatty sugary foods. Affordable entertainment, as well as paid work, often consists of sitting down in front of a screen of some kind, whether it be a TV or a computer.
So, with people spending most of their lives sitting down, and eating cheap high-calorie foods, there has never been a harder time for the ordinary person to avoid obesity and all the problems it brings.
Not all calories are equal. It's definitely easier to lose weight eating the sort of low GI foods which need more energy to digest and make you feel fuller for longer. Even so, you need to use up more energy than you consume if you want to lose weight. But it's hard to follow the advice to eat less and do more.
What's the answer?
Increasingly, government at all levels is seeing the need to get involved to help citizens battling obesity. Less obesity means lower health costs, as well as happier, more productive people.
In Oklahoma, Mayor Cornett has declared war on obesity, inspired by his own excessive girth. He set up a website called thiscityisgoingonadiet.com, giving advice on diet and exercise for weight loss. Businesses have cooperated with the city in financing improvements to the urban space to encourage exercise, with the object of shifting the city's culture to a more health-conscious one.
Bicycle lanes, parks and walking trails have been built, to help make exercise a natural part of citizens' daily routine. The mayor's strategy seems to have had an effect. In 2012, the city claimed it had reached the goal of losing one million pounds.
Other cities have adopted similar strategies, sometimes even taking things too far, as this piece in the New England Medical Journal argues. New York ran into legal problems when the city's ban on soda serving sizes over 16 ounces was overturned in court.
What about the people who can't lose weight?
Obesity has multiple causes, including poverty, sedentary work and city planning, as well as bad diet choices. There isn't just one solution.
As a last resort, weight loss surgery can be worth considering. Referring to a guide like ObesityReporter.com can help a person reach a decision on surgery when other methods have been tried and failed, or when they need to lose weight for urgent medical reasons.
Action on federal and civic levels can do a great deal to help, but each person is an individual and has to find their own way to reach a healthy weight. That might mean healthier eating and more exercise. But if extra help is needed, then the idea of surgery can't be rejected out of hand, given the serious consequences of obesity.
Erwin Taggart is a personal trainer and father of two. Whenever he has the time, he enjoys writing about health and fitness online. Look for his informative articles on a variety of websites and blogs today.