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Health Problems

Health Problems

Author: Zach Lamb

Identify major health issues impacting society.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. In this lesson, we're going to discuss some health problems in American society, particularly obesity. Obesity is unhealthiness that results from carrying too much weight and fat. And we measure obesity using the body mass index, which is an overall picture of body size. It's determined by comparing body weight to body height.

Culturally, obesity is very stigmatized in American society. Yet we have a huge problem with obesity. Even though we stigmatize it severely, we have a huge problem with obesity, a bigger problem, in fact, than other countries of similar socioeconomic standing.

In this country, poor people tend to be more obese than richer people. And wealth and cultural aspects might help to explain why this is the case. Wealthier people can afford to work out at gyms, and often they can afford to have more leisure time such that they can go do things like exercise and running. And they culturally value exercise as leisure, more so than poor people culturally value exercise.

Additionally, eating good is very expensive. Like if you want to go to produce section, buy only vegetables, fruit, meat-- shop the perimeter of the grocery store, as they say, where all of the real food is located, things that are coming right from nature and aren't processed, well, that costs a lot of money. It's much cheaper to buy all that processed, industrial food in the center of the grocery store. So poor people, then, don't have the resources as much as wealthy people to spend on food that's really good for you. So this affects differential rates of obesity as well. Social epidemiology, again, the study of how disease and health and things like obesity are disproportionately throughout the population.

Because we stigmatize obesity so much in this country, eating disorders result. People put tremendous pressure on themselves to be thin in our culture, and our culture puts a premium on being thin. So this can cause people to have eating disorders, which are abnormal eating habits involving excessive behaviors as well as psychological instability. So anorexia and bulimia are the two prominent eating disorders in American society. Anorexia is where you deprive yourself of food. Bulimia is where you will eat food but then throw up and regurgitate right away so you don't actually retain that nutrition.

Typically, in the past, eating disorders have been a gendered problem that has disproportionately affected women because our culture has placed more of a premium on the ideal of women's beauty and women's thinness. But now, this is changing. I just read an article about increasing rates of male eating disorders in this country. As males now are becoming more concerned about appearance in post-modernity, in postmodern culture and in postmodern society, they're become more feminized, meaning the categories of gender are starting to become more blurred. Things typically feminine are now taken up by males. So this has caused males to feel those pressures, too, feel that cultural stigma of looking really good, looking really thin, caring so much about your appearance. Things typically forced on females are now becoming the domain of men as well. So men are starting to see an increase in eating disorders.

We'll finish by touching on another health problem in the United States, and especially in global perspective as well, and that's AIDS. AIDS is the Acquired Immune Deficiency syndrome that attacks the human body's immune system. You don't die from AIDS often, but you die from the fact that AIDS weakens your immune system and prevents you from fighting anything off. And you become very weak, and you die from some other cause generally. You can get AIDS through sexual transmission, or it can be transmitted through blood, like what happens when people share needles.

So AIDS is a global and United States health problem. AIDS treatment is very expensive, and people in poorer countries in Africa are generally the biggest victims of AIDS because they lack both the educational resources to become aware of the dangers of AIDS and the medical institutions that are needed to provide adequate care. And this combo makes it such that a lot of people don't know they have it. Even in America, estimates are that only 80% of the people that have AIDS, four in five, know they have it. There's one in five out there that doesn't know they have AIDS.

So even though I've highlighted the fact that it disproportionately affects poorer countries and people in Africa, it is wrong to say that it's only a problem for poorer countries. And, in fact, rates of HIV and AIDS have been increasing in the United States. The CDC estimates that 1.2 million people living in the United States have AIDS. And Washington, DC, is the city that has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in this country. This has been an introduction to health problems, focusing on obesity, eating disorders, and AIDS. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

The acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that attacks the body's immune system.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

A calculation which judges body weight by comparing it to height.

Eating Disorder

Abnormal eating habits which involve excessive behaviors and psychological instability.


A state of unhealthiness from carrying too much weight and fat.