I have done some research recently on the psychological and sociological implications related weight loss and exercise motivation. I would love some suggestions on my work. It is a bit lengthy but I think some may find it interesting. I will paste my draft below:
Changing the Battle Plan: An Examination of The Mass Media and Current Motivational Trends in the War on Obesity
As the rate of sedentary lifestyle and obesity increase and commonly accepted solutions continue to fail it is prudent to analyze these failures and attempt to apply new views to these problems. Perhaps the ways in which we attempt to resolve these problems are in fact exacerbating the current condition. This paper will examine the current communication and media trends as they pertain to weight and body image and the ramifications of these trends on exercise, diet adherence and activity levels. It will also examine approaches to improve exercise adherence, by shifting the paradigm away from body image towards performance related fitness. By first understanding the disparaging traditional views of body image and weight, portrayed by the media, we can begin to establish new strategies for long term exercise and diet adherence, which are based on intrinsic motivation as opposed to the widely accepted extrinsically motivated strategies.
The Evolution of Body Image
The Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens is well known for his “Rubenesque” style, or the portrayal of what in today’s modern society would be thought of as obese women. Interestingly, in the 16th and 17th centuries, these women were thought of as highly attractive and the ideal picture of beauty. As recently as 1942 researchers, Sheldon and Stevens, found negative perceptions of ectomorphic, or thin body types. Their research concluded that individuals with thin body types were perceived negatively by others and thought to be nervous, submissive, and socially withdrawn (Turner, 1997). In the modern United States, and most other countries around the world, this view of the body seems foreign. As we wage the war on obesity we are taught that it is less than attractive to carry any excess weight. In fact, what is most often considered attractive in today’s world is something almost completely removed from the days of Rubens. When analyzing modern fashion models interesting trends appear. In an article dated March 25th, 2009, author Jan Battles states, “. . .While 25 years ago the average model was 8% thinner than the average woman, now models are on average 23% thinner” (Battles, 2009). Clearly the trend is toward an increasingly thinner view of ideal beauty.
What conclusions can be drawn from these trends? First, we must ask why there is such a discrepancy in perceptions of attractiveness between time periods. In the 16th and 17th centuries, being what is now termed as, overweight, or obese was probably a sign of extreme wealth. In societies where food was often scarce compared to today’s standards, the select few who had wealth and prestige had ready access to an abundance of food, which was not available to the common people. This trend in our modern world has reversed itself. Diana J. Mason, PhD, accurately describes the reversal stating, “There are class disparities . . . High-fat, high-carbohydrate foods are more available in poorer communities than the organic foods available in upscale neighborhoods” (Mason, 2006). General trends toward inexpensive and convenient foods, which lack nutritional value and are high in calories and fat, have made it much more difficult to be thin than overweight. Just as it was rare to be overweight in the 16th and 17th centuries, it is rare to be thin or underweight in the 21st century. This rarity seems to play a direct role in the attractiveness of these two body types. If we examine this trend from an evolutionary perspective we can more clearly see why these patterns exist.
In its most basic form, Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is based on survival of the fittest. In other words, how can an individual best survive and reproduce to pass its genes to subsequent generations? When applying these principles to body weight, one would assume that individuals would strive to obtain the body weight, which yields the best chance for survival. Optimal body weight is difficult to assess because environmental factors have outpaced the rate of evolutionary change. What was once advantageous may no longer be considered advantageous. Since humans have relatively long generation times in comparison to many other species, evolutionary change, or changes in allele frequencies, which bring about novel genetic combinations cannot keep pace with rapidly changing environments. From the perspective of early humans the ability to store energy was extremely advantageous for survival. When food is scarce and the energy requirement to obtain food is high, individuals with slower metabolic rates, who use energy more efficiently, or who are able to easily store excess energy are favored. This thinking is completely opposite of everything we are taught in our modern world. Because food is easily obtained with a very low energy cost and because activity levels have naturally decreased, due to changes in lifestyle, we are taught to needlessly expend, or “waste” energy. It would be foreign in today’s day and age to hear a complaint of a metabolism that was to fast. Never in the history of life on this planet has there been such a desire to needlessly waste energy through exercise. No other species, of which I am aware, participates in these behaviors. Is it any wonder why it is difficult to adhere to a behavior that is so inherently unnatural and against every aspect of our evolutionary survival mechanisms? Not only is the idea of exercise itself a backwards idea but, in fact, the “dream body” that most of us desire is most often far from optimal for health and survival.
We are repeatedly made aware of the numerous health risks associated with obesity. What we may not be so inherently aware of are the risks associated with being underweight. What we might also not understand is that even somewhat overweight individuals may be healthier than those classified as either obese or underweight.
The April 2005 edition of the Journal of the American Medial Association indicate that while both obesity (BMI ≥30) and underweight (BMI < 18.5) Body Mass Index ratings lead to higher rates of early mortality, individuals in the normal (BMI > 18.5 < 25) and overweight category (BMI> 25< 30) do not experience higher mortality (Flegal, Graubard, Williamson & Gail, 2005).
One obvious question from an evolutionary perspective is, why would a society view underweight individuals, who clearly are not among its most “fit” members, as the model for beauty? The answer may be somewhat complex having several components, including evolutionary and social aspects. From an evolutionary perspective the examples of two branches of sexual selection, Runaway Selection and Good Genes Theory, may help to explain why seemingly disadvantageous qualities might be sought after.
Runaway Selection, also known as Fisharian Selection was proposed by R.A. Fisher, in 1915. This theory is an extension of previously understood concepts of sexual selection (Fisher, 1915). The main premise of sexual selection is that sex based characteristics whether ornamental, cosmetic or demonstrated through other means, may give an indication to potential mates as to the health, quality of genes, potential breeding success or other sought after characteristics (Crawford, & Krebs, 1998). Runaway Selection assumes that both the display of and attraction to these qualities, particularly those that are outwardly displayed, are chosen in the process of natural selection. Individuals who display ornamentation and individuals who are most attracted to those ornamentations experience high levels of breeding success. Over time, features become overly exaggerated and may at some point, become detrimental to the fitness of the individual but may still be chosen based on the principles of runaway selection.
A classic example of Runaway Selection is bird tail length. Assume female birds are attracted to male birds with longer tails because tail length provides a fitness advantage by allowing male birds to fly faster with less effort. By choosing a mate with a long tail, female birds are more likely to have offspring with long tails. Over time, the male population with shorter tails experiences negative selective pressure while longer tailed males are selected. Conversely, females who are attracted to long tails also experience positive selective pressure. Eventually the population contains mostly long tailed males, and females who are attracted to long tailed males. The process may, at some point, run out of control if female preference begins to dictate selection rather than survival. Male tails may become so exaggerated that they become disadvantageous while still experiencing positive selective pressure (Caldwell).
The Good Genes Theory of sexual selection asserts that supposed “negative” features have a cost associated with them. If an individual produces such costly features, the individual must have “good genes” in order to be able to produce a developmentally costly yet detrimental feature. In the view of potential mates, only individuals with good genes have the fortitude of being able to produce these ornaments. This means that genes for these ornaments will experience positive selective pressure. In addition, a corresponding gene for choosiness of these features, within mates, will also experience positive selective pressure. Selective forces create a population in which most individuals have these ornaments and most mates favor them (Caldwell). Documented examples of Good Genes Theory and Runaway Selection in humans includes, an exaggeration of features indicating youthfulness in women. Some examples include small noses, small feet, pale skin and hairlessness. Additionally, evidence suggests that low waist-hip ratio and large breasts in women may also have resulted from the process associated with Good Genes Theory and Runaway Selection. In males, both dominating appearance, i.e. muscle size and mass, as well as facial hair are also examples of these processes (Barber, 1995).
While it is clear that both features, which may be disadvantageous to survival and attraction to these features may be genetically programmed, it must also be understood that the strict genetic evolution of such traits generally spans many generations. This is a slow process which cannot account for all of the rapid changes in our modern view of weight and body type. It is interesting to note that in animal experiments, when ornamentations, that had not previously been phonotypically expressed were added, by experimenters, those ornamented animals showed increased attractiveness (Crawford, & Krebs, 1998). This seems to suggest that there are other forces which may work in conjunction with genetic selection in determining the causes for the rapid shift in both attractiveness and attraction which we as a society have experienced in the past 300 years.
Social Evolution’s impact on body image
While genetics and biological evolution may help us begin to understand the modern body image phenomenon, we must also examine the impacts of social evolution in order to fully understand the problem. In study after study it seems clear that extremely thin women and overly muscular men appear as the ideal of social acceptance. Why though would society embrace, if not promote body images that are often unhealthy and possibly dangerous?
A basic understanding of social norms, and what drives them, may give us some clues as to the origins of what seems to be an arbitrary behavioral pattern. Social-Value Perspective Theory asserts that social norms and behaviors are driven by the value of those behaviors to that particular society. It states that a norm is neither good nor bad but derives its power from cultural acceptance. The theory was developed in attempt to explain the occasional social acceptance of some behaviors, which are often seen as hard to reconcile, such as cannibalism. The theory goes on to state that the social norms that guide our daily activities are those which are performed and rewarded repeatedly. Once a norm becomes established within a society, members will discourage deviant behaviors by telling other members what they should or ought to do. At this point these norms have become internalized within the group. This theory concludes that any behavior that is reinforced can become the accepted norm (Gilbert, Fiske, & Lindzey, 1998).
“If American businesspeople were rewarded for wearing ‘athletic supporters and tie-dyed tee shirts while crab-walking backwards with basketballs in their mouth’ instead of dark wool business suits during the hotter summer months they would abandon the stuffy suits for a more colorful attire” (Gilbert, Fiske, & Lindzey, 1998).
While this theory does indeed explain how an arbitrary or seemingly disadvantageous norm can become a part of society and may account for the seemingly strange attraction to body types, which are not advantageous, it does not explain the ways in which the perception of normative body type has changed over time. Because we live in a unique time, in which the mass media has such a wide spread effect, we must examine the changes in normative thought processes over time in relation to the media messages, as well as ways in which the media may effect our perceptions.
There are no shortage of authors and scholars who have written and researched the role of media in all aspects of daily life. One of the first and most notable authors to write on this subject was the man widely known as “The Father of Public Relations” Edward Bernays. In his landmark book Propaganda, Bernays states the following,
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet. They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons— a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world” (Bernays, 1298).
The ideas originally expressed by Bernays have since been expounded upon by many authors and theorists. Some may say that Bernays laid the groundwork for a theory of mass communication known as, The Theory of Mass Society. The main assumptions of the Theory of Mass Society are that “The mass media encourage and make viable a root, alienated, form of social organization in which we are increasingly within the control of power distant institutions” (McQuail, 1979). This theory has been extensively written about and analyzed by many contemporary authors. One such author, Alan Swingewood, adds an interesting premise to the theory by explaining that the continual growth, in strength and power, of media influence can be partly attributed to the continual degradation of traditional sources of authority, such as family and religion (Swingewood , 1977).
Still other authors and scholars raise the question of intent. “The mass media do have important consequences for individuals, for institutions and for society and culture. . . we cannot assume that ownership and control of the means does necessarily confer power over others in any straightforward or predictable way” (McQuail, 1979).
Is the way in which the media effect our daily lives always or even often purposeful--or can it lack a direction and have unintended and unforeseen effects? Both purposeful and unintended media influence have interesting implications when applied to the obesity epidemic, weight loss and body image.
If we follow the ideas of Bernays and assume that the mass media is purposefully shaping public perception of body image, we must ask, who stands to profit from this process? There is no question that there are numerous industries who’s very existence is dependant upon the seemingly hopeless cycle of obesity, weight loss and weight gain.
According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association the estimated number of U.S. health clubs as of January 2006 was 29,069, the estimated number of health club members was 41.3 million and the 2005 total U.S. Industry Revenues: $15.9 billion ("The International health, racquet & Sportsclub Association").
In a February 16th, 2009 Marketdata Enterprises disclosed findings from their 10th edition of the study “The U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market.” The study indicates that weight loss market revenues totaled over $58 billion. One drug alone, the popular diet drug Alli reported $354 million in sales from 2007 to 2008. The study also shows that “America’s estimated 72 million dieters—about 75% of whom try to lose weight by themselves, are fickle and shift from fad to fad.” Additionally, “The typical American dieter now makes 4 weight loss attempts per year—the highest number in 15 years” ("Diet market worth," 2009).
The underlying irony in these statistics is that the very companies who provide products, to aide success, in weight loss also have a vested interest in the failure of the individual. If, through their advertising and marketing campaigns, these companies can mold the individual to believe that the continually more extreme body image is the model for success, they will continue to prosper by selling their products. They may also prosper because research also indicates that when body image becomes the primary focus of any diet or exercise program, it is highly likely to fail.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Several studies have examined the role of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on exercise adherence. Intrinsic motivational factors are present when individuals participate in an activity for the satisfaction gained by participating. This type of motivation is primarily based on the enjoyment of or interest in the activity, as well as competence. Conversely, extrinsically motivated behaviors are those which are performed in order to gain rewards or outcomes that do not relate directly to the activity. In 1993 Christina M. Frederick and Richard M. Ryan conducted a survey of 376 adults concerning exercise motivation. The purpose of the study was to compare individuals whose primary motivation for activity was a single sport with those who held general fitness, exercise and body image motives. The study introduced a scale for the quantification of interest and enjoyment in activity which they refer to as the “Motivation for Physical Activities Measure” or (MPAM). Results indicated that participants who had body/fitness related motives, which can be termed extrinsic were much less likely to feel energized, confident and satisfied as a result of their activity. The study continues by saying, “Body-related motivation was associated with greater depression and anxiety, but not with self-esteem. Level of participation indications generally correlated with feelings of physical fitness, but not with mental health outcomes” (Frederick, & Ryan, 1993).
In analysis, the Fredrick and Ryan study, as well as several similar studies by David Markland and David Ingledew. clearly summarize the effects of extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors in the book, Intrinsic Motivation and Self Determination in Exercise and Sport. They state that:
When intrinsically oriented motives predominate, participation is likely to be accompanied by a sense of volition and freedom from pressure and therefore long-term commitment is to be expected and engagement will be accompanied by positive exercise-related cognitions and affects. Motives such as losing weight, improving appearance, or pleasuring others, however, are more likely to be experienced as internally controlling (e.g., as when one tells oneself “I must exercise to lose weight”), and reflect extrinsic motivation. When one is regulated in controlling fashion, long-term commitment to an activity is less probable and will be accompanied by feelings of tension and pressure to act. . .when people pursue extrinsic goals, their self-worth may become contingent on the achievement of these goals. If individuals are focused on exercising to look good or to be slim, failure to attain these ideals could leave them feeling worthless, and indeed helpless, leading to behavioral disengagement . . . pursuing such extrinsic goals could lead people to make more frequent social comparisons. In an exercise context, this might mean that the individual is never satisfied with him- or herself, because there are always plenty of people who look better (Markland & Ingledew, 2007).
By taking these ideas one step further we can see a logical connection—the reason body image based diet and exercise programs fail is because not only are they extrinsically motivated but the goal is a constantly changing and becoming ever more extreme and unattainable. This is especially true in the post Photoshop world. Not only are female models becoming thinner and male models more muscular but images can now be manipulated to artificially enhance these qualities. They have truly become unattainable. We are indeed pursuing goals which are difficult if not impossible to obtain. This will surely lead to failure.
It is not only the changing shape of the female fashion model that has influenced our perceptions of ideal body image. In a 1998 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers took measurements of the most popular male toy action figures in a period spanning the previous 30 years. Results showed “. . .that the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest human bodybuilders. . .Our observations appear to represent a ‘male analog’ of earlier studies examining female dolls, such as Barbie. Together, these studies of children's toys suggest that cultural expectations may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes” (Pope, Olivardia, Gurber, & Borowiecki, 1998).
The manipulation may not end with the fitness and entertainment industries. It seems that there are other corporate industry puppet masters that pull the public strings. A single company, fast good giant, McDonald’s, reported revenues of over $23 billion in 2008. McDonald’s and other fast food companies profit from a continually obese population. Not only do these companies employ creative marketing strategies, which generally involve typically thin female models and muscular male models, they also offer a variety of fast, easy, convenient and inexpensive items. These often appeal to populations who are challenged with economic limitations or time constraints. Particularly during difficult economic times, one or both of these challenges are present in most modern families. Interestingly, in recently years McDonald’s and other fast food companies have added lower calorie “diet” items to their menus. Could this be yet another attempt to place individuals on the endless diet rollercoaster?
While some may argue that the media message changes to meet public needs rather than to manipulate them, there is certainly evidence to suggest that many companies may gain significant financial benefit by manipulating body image, elevating expectations of success and perhaps, even purposefully, sabotaging individuals who are unknowingly under their influence. Is it possible, however, that not all media purposefully directs our society toward our current ideals of beauty? Could it be that the media simply responding to changes in public taste and perceptions rather than shaping them? Is it also possible that the strategies, which are currently being used to promote healthy behavior, and those who have waged the war against obesity are unintentionally “feeding” an already extrinsically motivated society?
The War Against Obesity: A Flawed Battle Plan
The war against obesity has been raging for quite some time. The constant message is that Americans are just too fat. That our eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are simply out of control and “we,” often meaning government, must take decisive action to reverse these trends. These activist messages always seem to revolve around words loaded with body image implications such as “fat,” “chubby,” and “overweight,” these are the words which seem to strike a cord with many people because there is a fear of the social implications of being “fat.” Many such activists also point to the impending health crisis associated with rapidly increasing obesity rates including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. While some evidence suggests that these concerns are warranted, other researchers argue against this conventional wisdom. In the Cato Institute article entitled “The ‘War’ Against Obesity,” Radley Balko explains that both cancer and heart disease steadily decreased through 1990s and early 2000s and while diabetes levels have increased, it could be in part due to changes in research methodology. Balko also references the study conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University. Friedman analyzed weight data between 2001 and 2004 which suggest that the average individual was merely 6 pounds heavier. He also concluded that traditional data models were skewed because only the very obese have become significantly heavier. Balko also states that according to Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth, “there's no statistically significant risk of premature death among the overweight until you find yourself among the very seriously obese” (Balko, 2004).
Some suggest that additional government regulation is part of the solution to the epidemic. Many regulatory strategies have been suggested from taxes on soda to limiting the amount of fat, salt or other ingredients companies are allowed to add to their products. While government should play a role in transparency and regulation of powerful corporate interests and providing useful information for consumers to aide them in making positive decisions, it seems as though many of these proposed solutions are simply another form of extrinsic motivation. As was previously discussed, in regard to extrinsic motivational factors, “When one is regulated . . . long-term commitment to an activity is less probable and will be accompanied by feelings of tension and pressure to act” (Markland & Ingledew, 2007).
True Intrinsic motivation can only be achieved when personal responsibility and accountability are present. The more we are compelled to make correct decisions, the less likely we are to achieve long term success and find the true inward motivation. It is impossible to be compelled to display inward and intrinsic motivation.
This is not to say that we should not be concerned about obesity as a health risk. There is ample evidence to suggest that obesity does coincide with higher risks of disease and mortality. The problem is the way in which we are choosing to wage the war. There is a clear effort to use language which accentuates the body image as the most important aspect of the epidemic. This demonizes individuals who may be “fat,” according to some socially construed standard, a standard which research suggests is not based on health but public perception, or even worse, manipulative media influence. When did the focus of this “war” move from fighting obesity related diseases to cementing the media and corporate industry driven standards for appearance? It is unfortunate that seemingly well intended individuals on the front lines of this battle, are fighting with a losing strategy. It leaves us wondering why such a poor battle plan has been so widely embraced.
To answer this question we can return to the previous discussion on principles of Runaway Selection. Application of these same principles to social trends can prove useful in demonstrating that social behaviors may begin with a positive goal for change but over time, these positive behaviors may become over exaggerated and result in unintended negative consequences. This phenomenon can be viewed as a sort of “Social Runaway.” Just as the female peacock subconsciously views the long and ornate tail of the male peacock as advantageous even though it amounts to a fitness disadvantage, we have created the same type of social standard in regards to weight and more specifically, body image. Even as detailed evidence supports the conclusion that the socially ideal male and female body images are far from ideal for the highest level of fitness and well being, we remain convinced that they are not only signs of beauty but of optimal health as well. While obesity certainly is not and has never been physically idea, it seems that in our McArthian style attempt to, root it out of our society, we have created new and unforeseen consequences. If we know that using body image, weight, body fat and other extrinsically motivated metrics as motivation for exercise and diet programs is a failing proposition, why is it that nearly every diet, exercise and health care professional uses these metrics as a center piece of their regimens? How many times have we heard health professionals say things like “You need to lose 20 pounds.” Even popular culture celebrates these flawed motivations with TV shows like “The Biggest Loser.” Few would dare to question the motives of these so called experts. Despite their seemingly good intentions, these types of cultural icons are only contributing to the current trends toward unattainable goals and failing extrinsically motivated strategies. If we truly intend to solve these problems we must change our strategy and outlook. By moving away from extrinsic, body related motivation toward intrinsic performance related motivation we will not only be more likely to experience long term adherence to a more active lifestyle but we will also improve overall physical, mental and emotional satisfaction and well being.
Changing the Rhetoric
Solutions to these problems are indeed as complex in nature as the problems themselves. In many senses, we are acutely unaware of the nature of the problem we are attempting to solve. As recently as July 28th, 2010, England’s public health minister Anne Milton encouraged the replacement of the term “obese” with the term “fat” stating that the use of stronger language would encourage personal responsibility. Ms. Milton was quoted as stating, "If I look in the mirror and think I am obese I think I am less worried [than] if I think I am fat" (Triggle, 2010).
We now have the highest level government officials attempting to change the dialogue from one, based on disease and early mortality to one which is based completely on body image. What does looking into the mirror have to do with disease? What problem exactly is the minister trying to solve? The mirror and the scales are not only, not a part of the solution, but are perhaps two of the biggest sources of discouragement and failure for individuals who are attempting to take personal responsibility. The minister’s advice will most certainly lead to the worst type of extrinsic motivation, the type which will lead to failure, depression, anxiety, distorted body image, eating disorders and worse. How can this possibly lead to a more healthy society? This is not an issue of encouraging personal responsibility, or trying to somehow protect feelings and sensitivities, it is an issue of promoting body image and weight over health. Is this not a clear path to a failure? We do indeed need to change our rhetoric on this issue from dialogue based on unrealistic extrinsic goals and body image to one based on the encouragement of an intrinsically motivated active lifestyle. It is imperative to encourage active behaviors which are inherently fulfilling rather than those which have no intrinsic benefits. This is particularly important with children in developmental stages.
Family support has also been shown to have a positive impact on healthy behaviors. A 2003 study conducted by researchers, explored the relationship between excessive weight in children and high maternal employment hours. The study suggests that. “The increase in the mother’s time constraints may lead to behavioral changes affecting the child’s nutrition and physical activity, such as the mother’s greater reliance on calorie-dense convenience foods and her lack of time for supervising vigorous play outside” (Anderson, Butcher, & Levine, 2003).
These finding also lend support to the conclusion that media influence may grow stronger as traditional influences, such as family, are continually degraded. Strong traditional family roles in diet, beginning with home prepared family meals, as well as participation in active lifestyle behaviors within the family, which encourage intrinsic motivation are vital elements in long term adherence to active and healthy lifestyles. Dr. Anderson’s findings also support the argument that convenience and time constraints may both play significant roles in both diet and activity levels. The more time constrained our population becomes, the less likely we are to participate in active and healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as regular enjoyable activity and preparation healthy, balanced, lower calorie meals. These principles are well understood by the health and fast food industries and they are clearly employing successful marketing and product strategies which appeal to a more and more time strapped demographic. The end result of these strategies is a continued lack of activity and higher calorie diets.
In addition to changes within the home, active lifestyles can also be successfully promoted within the educational system. In recent years, funding for and participation in school Physical Education programs has dramatically declined.
According to study information compiled by the University of North Carolina, there are several easily modifiable factors, which can encourage active behaviors in adolescents. Researchers linked participation in school Physical Education programs with higher overall activity levels. Despite a dramatic correlation between overall activity level and participation in Physical Education classes, only 21.3% of the 17,766 surveyed adolescents participated in one or more days of Physical Education per week in their schools (Gordon-Larsen, McMurray, & Popkin, 2000).
Not only will increased focus on Physical Education directly encourage active behaviors, it also helps to make physical activity social, which is another key component of intrinsic motivation. The feeling of being part of a group can become a positive inward motivation and can drive collective success. Physical Education classes also expose children and adolescents to a variety of sports and other enjoyable activities which can become a source of further interest and continued intrinsic motivation.
There are several simple common sense solutions which can prove successful in combating the national obesity epidemic. The best solutions will always be centered in our core values as a society. When we choose to focus on the outward, we will fail. As we attempt to find inward motivation, true, life long changes, and the inner beauty of the individual we will find success. This battle is about personal responsibility. The responsibility of the individual is to change their views of themselves as well as the way they perceive others. We must stop focusing on body image, both our own and others, and begin to focus on active healthy intrinsically motivated lifestyles. We also have the responsibility to cultivate strong family and social relationships that provide a strong value system in combating negative media influences, and act as a support system as we work toward the goal of a more active and healthy nation.
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