According to the Taiwan Association of Medical Experts for the Study of Obesity, 33.1 percent of males and 21.4 percent of females in Taiwan were considered Obese as of the year 2010 (Chang, 2011). Opitz and Gilbert-Barness (2007) state that the obesity has been classified as a leading preventable cause of deaths universally with large scale studies in American and European continents being carried out. This indicates that obesity-related deaths are more prevalent with increasing Body Mass Indices (BMI). In the U.S. alone, obesity causes between 110,000 to 365,000 deaths each year, and 1.7 million people in Europe die from overweight-related complications per year (World Health Organization, 2012).Other regions in the world are similarly affected, except Sub-Saharan Africa, the only region where obesity is currently not a major threat. An even larger number of persons in each region are considered overweight, pausing serious health concerns over the long term period. Important studies have been carried out to create awareness in people regarding their health status (Opitz & Gilbert-Barness, 2007). This essay will focus on public health awareness in Taiwan and obesity statistics as a particular case of the effect of health awareness.
Health, Weight, and Obesity
Health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the state of complete well-being – mentally, physically, and spiritually – and not the absence of disease (Chang, 2011). The environment, mainly the state of the air, water, and living quarters, is a key determinant of individual’s and society’s health. According to the WHO, other health determinants are social and economic environments, the individual behavior, as well as the physical environment (WHO, 2011). As food security situations become better and lifestyle changes lead towards less physical activity, more people throughout the world face the risk of becoming overweight while an increasingly large number are becoming obese. Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to determine if one is overweight, underweight, normal weight, or obese. Obesity is a state of having excessive body fat. In many instances, obesity results from the lack of exercise, where one intakes high fat food. Few cases take place where it may be caused by genetic problems, certain medication, as well as certain mental diseases (Chang, 2011).
The Journal of Clinical Nursing administered questionnaires to 816 male and 781 female high school students in 2007-2008 with the aim of finding out their status of health literacy and how this affected obesity prevalence (World Health Organization, 2012). The study also focused on the respondents' awareness of their family incomes as well the education level of their parents. Students were taken from six schools, with 55% of respondents in senior high school and the rest in vocational high school. Most were currently living with their parents (World Health Organization, 2012).
Health awareness was assessed using six items: nutrition, appreciation of life, stress management, health responsibility, and social support and exercise. 1620 forms were filled and returned, whereby health literacy scores were awarded as follows. All students who scored above 75 percent on the health awareness scale were awarded a high level health literacy status. Those who scored below 25 percent on the HL form were classified as having low health literacy, the rest were termed as medium level HL students (Opitz & Gilbert-Barness, 2007).
The results showed that 40.6 % were high level HL respondents, 49.3 % were medium level HL respondents while 9.7 % were low level HL. 68.3 % of senior high school respondents were ethnic Taiwanese who knew their parents’ monthly incomes and had college graduate parents. These students tended to have higher HL scores than those in vocational schools or had no knowledge of their family incomes and had non-college graduate parents. This shows the role of family support and educations as well as the type of school attended in promoting Health Literacy. 51.4 % reported having had health problems, and 59.2 % as having poor health. There was found a correlation between health literacy and health status (Opitz & Gilbert-Barness, 2007).
Additionally, low health literate students appeared to have less knowledge concerning health promoting behavior (were less aware of nutritional contributions to health and had poorer interpersonal relations) (Chang, 2011). However, little evidence was found to suggest that low HL students exercised less or had poorer stress management skills. The achievement of a healthy body weight is a key factor in preventing obesity. It is necessary to continually promote health literacy in students in order to sensitize them on the healthy body mass index (BMI) range and, further, to help them maintain it by choosing the type of food to use as well as the role of exercise and good interpersonal relations (Chang, 2011). As the studies indicate, only 40.6 % were well informed about the existing health issues (Opitz & Gilbert-Barness, 2007).
Obesity is, in most cases, related to controllable health practices, such as nutrition and exercise, yet its presence can enormously raise chances of other diseases like heart diseases and diabetes. Informing the society about all the simple ways of maintaining healthy practices as a way to prevent being overweight, thus significantly reducing chances of developing obesity should be the key factor in maintaining a healthy community (Chang, 2011). The studies in the above report suggest that more than a half of respondents are not sufficiently aware of what they need to do in order to remain healthy. Creating awareness through educational policies and community initiatives might help in reducing the obesity threat in Taiwanese communities (World Health Organization, 2012).