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The problem of obesity in the United States is massively researched by scholars and is deemed to be one of the most serious health-related issues for all groups of people. Moreover, obesity among children and adolescents is a highly debatable concern that often becomes the center of attention for activists, policymakers, and government officials. Under the influence of these individuals, who can also be called claims-makers, people may want to find more about this topic. They turn to the fastest and easiest way of finding information – Google Search. Thus, by analyzing a simple search phrase such as “child obesity” on Google Trends, one may see a pattern that shows the points in time where people were most concerned about the topic.
The issue of child obesity often becomes researched on the Internet during the dates of presidential elections, the announcements of new tax reforms, and federal regulation changes which may be explained by the political debate around children’s health. The overall decline may also pertain to the governmental interest in the issue. The influence of Michelle Obama and other expert claims-makers has reduced during the period from 2013 to 2018 which may be an outcome of the discontinued program Let’s Move! and the end of Obama’s presidency.
Description of Social Problem
Obesity in children and adolescents is an issue that is followed by many health-related and social problems for children, their parents, and the community as a whole (Ogden et al., 2016). The conversation about childhood obesity often entails other discussions such as the economic state of the country and its access to healthy foods, the issue of marketing and food industries, and the lack of physical activity (Lobstein et al., 2015). The research on the topic of rising obesity is often covered in media which also impacts the way people view the situation. The social problem discussed in this paper bases its observations on the search phrase “child obesity.”
Graph of Google Trends
The Methodology behind Google Trends
Google Trends gathers information from people’s searches in Google and collects them to reveal a statistic of used phrases and words. Thus, a graph is shown above, for example shows how many times Google Search users have entered the phrase “child obesity” in the past five years. It is important to remember that these searches may have had different reasons behind them. While some users may have used Google search for their research purposes, others could have found, seen, or heard this term elsewhere and decided to find more information about it.
Therefore, Google Trends may represent a general idea of what was discussed or mentioned in the media during the surges in the number of search inquiries. As a contrast, the lower points may show the periods when people did not consider these issues as much. Similarly, overall declines and increases may signify a general public’s concern.
As it is shown in Figure 1, the interest in child obesity had decreased considerably over the past five years. Moreover, the pattern indicates that people were most interested in researching the topic of obesity in April and November of almost every year in the period from 2013 to 2017. While the chart shows extremely inconsistent results about people’s interest, one may notice an overall fall in the number of searches.
Claims and Claims-Makers
As can be observed in Figure 1, there are some significant points where the number of searches increases significantly. Almost all of these points fall on such dates as the middle of April and November. Interestingly, every year has nearly similar periods of increased interest in childhood obesity. Thus, it is possible to suspect that these points in time may be correlated with some impactful events.
One of the arguments that may explain the surge of inquiries in November is that this is the month of the most heated political debates. For example, according to Confessore (2014), the discussion of school lunches and the proposed regulations made by the President and his team affected the state of the debate between lunch makers, food companies, and advocates. Thus, the surge in the fall of 2014 may be explained by this problem appearing in the media.
Similarly, the increasing searches in the spring of 2013, one of the highest points on the graph, may be attributed to the discussion of the soda tax (Confessore, 2013). The soda tax problem that involved such influential claims-makers as the President and the First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, also featured various researchers and lobbyists. The soda tax is connected with the issue of child obesity in most of these articles and is also often mentioned in the context of changing school lunches. Thus, the previously mentioned initiative to make meals healthier plays a role in this search increase.
People seem to make claims that differ from one article to another. First of all, government officials and the First Lady herself stated that the rate of obesity among children and adolescents was continuously rising due to unhealthy behaviors and unregulated markets. Thus, it should be mitigated by increasing children’s physical activity, improving their school lunches, and changing their eating habits (Let’s Move!, 2010).
Second, some researchers supported this rhetoric and confirmed the claim with their studies (Confessore, 2014). On the other hand, various lobbyists, bottlers, and food companies opposed the soda tax and presented a claim that taxes were not connected to obesity and were discriminatory. Notably, such claims were also supported by institutes, communities, and advocacy organizations protecting the rights of minorities (Confessore, 2013).
Therefore, some influential claims-makers can be outlined for this social problem. One of the central advocates and officials is Michelle Obama who declared child obesity as one of the most pressing issues in the US. Researchers exploring the connection between child obesity, eating habits, and school lunches’ regulations are another expert claims-maker in this case. Finally, advocacy groups and lobbyists make up a group of claims-makers as well.
It may be suggested that the problems highlighted by Michelle Obama were effective in drawing the attention of the public because of their controversial nature. Her approach to solving child obesity was straightforward and determined which caused a response from other parties. Such a push for an open discussion of obesity raised the interest of the public. Obama also presented people with case examples and concrete numbers that possibly affected the level of interest (Let’s Move!, 2010). In turn, companies have utilized their resources and called for the support of activist groups which are usually very active on media platforms. Therefore, the time of elections and political debates became the most important for discussing the problem to make the public either support or oppose new tax cuts and changes in regulations.
Here, claims-makers from both sides had vast resources to attract attention to their side of the debate. Obama had political power and status, while soda companies had financial resources to engage other activists and gain more support. Michelle Obama used studies and presented many examples from individual cases. Companies adhered to the usage of cultural resources, employing the notions of personal freedom and non-discrimination. They also relied on personal responsibility, while Obama mostly used scientific grounds for her arguments. It is possible that the effect of soda companies’ claims was more effective because it appealed to the public’s sense of independence and a negative view of taxes.
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The decline in searches may be linked to the end of Barack Obama’s presidency which also limited the presence of Michelle Obama in the government (Dewey, 2016). Therefore, her activism became less recognizable, having lost the previous status and accessible resources. Trump’s administration focused on different problems, leaving the anti-obesity initiative behind (Green, & Hirschfeld, 2017). Thus, while the number of searches still increased near the dates of political debates, the popularity of the topic was not as high due to the lack of new media coverage.
Society may not treat claims on child obesity supported by research as more valid than statements rooted in national and cultural principles. Although Michelle Obama’s claims had viable grounds, the appeal of the contrary opinion may not have allowed her to be more successful in her advocacy. The number of inquiries surrounding this topic may be correlated to some other incidents, such as health concerns in schools or parents’ desire to change their children’s lifestyles.
However, the political angle can show the dependence of people’s opinions on the activity of government officials and lobbying groups. The increasing activity of lobbyists may have been more effective than Obama’s propositions because of its strong cultural foundation. This statistic of searches may be interpreted as people’s strong opposition to taxation and regulation.
Confessore, N. (2013). Minority groups and bottlers team up in battles over soda. The New York Times. Web.
Confessore, N. (2014). How school lunch became the latest political battleground. The New York Times. Web.
Dewey, C. (2016). Trump doesn’t threaten only President Obama’s legacy. He could ruin Michelle Obama’s, too. The Washington Post. Web.
Google Trends. (2018). Child obesity. Web.
Green, E. L. & Hirschfeld, J. (2017). Trump takes aim at school lunch guidelines and a girls’ education program. The New York Times. Web.
Leonhardt, D. (2013). Obama likes some sin taxes more than others. The New York Times. Web.
Let’s Move! (2010). Learn the facts. Web.
Lobstein, T., Jackson-Leach, R., Moodie, M. L., Hall, K. D., Gortmaker, S. L., Swinburn, B. A.,… McPherson, K. (2015). Child and adolescent obesity: Part of a bigger picture. The Lancet, 385(9986), 2510-2520.
Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Lawman, H. G., Fryar, C. D., Kruszon-Moran, D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2016). Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States, 1988-1994 through 2013-2014. JAMA, 315(21), 2292-2299.