Approximately two weeks ago, I made a trip to the grocery store on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I wove through the aisles, looking at the somewhat-blasé arrays of apples, oranges and other produce items. The health food section had a lot of grain products I couldn't pronounce. But as my cart rolled towards the other side of the side of the store, past the frozen vegetable aisle, something caught my eye.

Candy.

A bright, shiny, tantalizing parade of candy in colorful wrappings, surrounding me on all sides in two large aisles. Halloween had obviously arrived, and all the Halloween candy I could imagine gleamed in shiny displays. I cruised slowly down the aisle, looking at the mouthwatering selections of Kit-Kats, Milky-Ways, M&M's, Snickers, Tootsie Rolls ... the selection was endless. Yet, as I checked the date on my phone, I had to look twice.

The date wasn't Oct. 3 — or even October, for that matter. September had barely begun, but according to aisle 10, the Halloween season — prime candy season — was well underway.

As I walked out of the grocery store after grudgingly purchasing carrots, frozen vegetables and zero candy, I thought about the presentation I'd just seen.

We live in a consumer culture — there's no mystery to the fact that purchasing items for our needs, large and small, is an integral part of the American, capitalistic lifestyle.

But for many Americans, the indulgence of sugar that normally occurs on one holiday night has become a daily occurrence.

Put very simply, a massive problem is sweeping across our nation — a sugar-coated epidemic that causes citizens' diseases and illnesses and immeasurably harms overall well-being.

Statistics show that Americans over the age of 20 are largely overweight and obese; in fact, only about 31 percent of adults maintain a weight within a healthy range, according to data from the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. The data also shows 37 percent of Americans are obese, and another 6 percent are morbidly so. The prevalence is alarming, and attempts to attract our nation towards more exercise and celery don't seem to be terribly convincing.

Yet, in some ways, the system of selling power can effectively coerce buyers into believing that indulgent choices will make them happier, and more satisfied.

"Unwrap a Smile." "Treat Yourself Today." "Open Happiness." "No One Can Eat Just One." These advertisements, from Hershey's, Dove Chocolates, Coca-Cola, and Lay's — major corporate food companies in America — present a persuasive emotional appeal.

Our economic market is designed to make us feel the need for more. Our purchases, necessary and unnecessary, make up an important fixture to our economy; when it comes to food, however, our cravings have a more serious implication. And, in a time when health-care issues threaten the very functioning of our government, the importance of protecting your health is paramount.

The marketing industry seems to be very effective in promoting processed, sugary foods, but ultimately, I don't think the responsibility for America's obesity lies solely in the advertising.

Although food selection plays a role, I strongly believe that each individual has the ultimate responsibility to take care of his or her body. Everyone has a unique metabolic makeup, and two people can process foods very differently.

Some people will be able to eat without restriction for their entire lives; some will have to cut back in middle age; some may use caution following puberty.

As a self-professed chocolate addict, I have the urge to buy or eat chocolate almost any time I see it. But I don't. I understand how my body works, and I don't pretend that eating several pieces of chocolate bars or cake will not impact my health.

Despite what the food industry may say, our bodies can't be worn and discarded like last season's sweater; this time, we only get one.

I love chocolate, and I love Halloween. But shiny packaging and strategic selling, in exchange for a healthy, balanced life literally isn't worth the price.

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama1@utk.edu.