Having grown up in Boulder, Colorado, which is known for its high level of health, it’s hard to grasp how severe the issue of obesity is in the United States. But one look at the hard facts reveal the ugly truth behind obesity in America and it becomes easy to realize why it’s now considered an epidemic in the country.
This cartoon, illustrated by Dave Granlund, shows how much obesity has become embedded into the American landscape. It features an overweight Uncle Sam happily carrying a huge tray of unhealthy food. The initial reaction to the image is one of shock because Granlund has taken an iconic American symbol and changed it to force the viewer to confront an issue that many choose to ignore. Uncle Sam, once a national personification of the American spirit, has fallen victim to the obesity epidemic and now spends his time shoveling junk food into his mouth. It’s a depressing truth, but it’s one that many American citizens face everyday. But what’s more shocking about the cartoon is that the foods Uncle Sam is carrying have become regular staples of the American diet. On his tray are a hamburger, fries, a bucket of popcorn, some pastries, and a cup of soda — all giant and disproportionate to Uncle Sam. It almost seems like the food is about to swallow him whole.
That’s what makes this picture so great. Art can be found in the most unlikely places, like this cartoon because it reveals truths about American culture and its impact on American society. Fast food, first introduced in the years following World War I, was an instant hit because of its convenience — a symbol of America’s technological advancement. Today, the U.S. has the largest fast food industry in the world, employing approximately 2 million American workers and expanding to over 100 countries. It has also taken its toll on the way American citizens live and eat, being a major cause of obesity in the country. On average, nearly one-third of U.S. children eat fast food on a daily basis, planting the seeds for obesity at a very young age (Associated Press). Prevalence in childhood obesity has tripled since 1980, but it doesn’t stop there. High rates in fast food consumption can be found in both male and female adults, from all racial/ethnic groups and all regions of the country.
It’s sad to say, but obesity is quickly becoming as big of an American symbol as Uncle Sam or fast food. An image of an obese person, like in this cartoon, can be just as culturally significant because it illuminates a part of America that has quietly taken over. By drawing this cartoon, Granlund has opened a window into the magnitude of the obesity epidemic in the United States and how much it has intersected into the American lifestyle.
– The Associated Press. “Fast Food Linked to Childhood Obesity.” CBS News, 11 Feb 2009. Web. 4 Feb 2013.
– Granlund, Dave. “US Obesity.” Digital image. Daryl Cagle’s Political Cartoons. 7 July 2009. Web. 4 Feb 2013.