According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity. Being obese is defined as a health issue, not a personal flaw. There are good reasons for that. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. in 2008 (the most recent published study I could find) was $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
It isn’t any surprise that obesity is linked to over consumption of sodas, high fat fast foods, and most of the processed foods you pull off the grocery shelf, coupled with sedentary life styles. Everything you read indicates the trend is to eat more and exercise less. In the name of convenience we load up our grocery carts without spending five seconds figuring out what we will be putting on our family’s dinner plates or in their lunch boxes. Convenient rarely adds up to healthy.
According to reports by the National Institute on Health, obesity in the U.S. has soared from four percent to more than 34 percent in the last 50 years. In an age when we can have whatever we want if we’re willing to work for it, the one problem we can’t seem to solve is obesity.
Some analysts project that in 20 years the cost to taxpayers for obesity-related illnesses will exceed $550 billion. Why? Because many of those who overeat unhealthy foods are in lower income brackets. They live in urban areas considered food deserts where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited. Fast food and convenience stores dominate the landscape. Even though many chain restaurants, like McDonalds, offer healthy choices, the big sellers continue to be fat and salt loaded burgers and fries, served with high-sugar sodas large enough to bathe in.
There are those who say, “People who eat too much have a choice; nobody is holding a gun to their heads to force them to eat a bag of chips instead of an apple.” Perhaps, but only if you can find an apple to buy. Yes, self-restraint is up to the individual. The reality is a generation of people who grew up on super-sized everything from burgers to Big Gulps. One eight-ounce serving of Coke may have only 97 calories, but the double or triple sized version has double or triple the calories. A single serving of chips (and what that constitutes varies from brand to brand) might be listed as 150 calories, but if you look closer there are 24 servings in a bag. Multiply that out and see what you get. How many times have you sat down to eat a “handful of chips” and before you know it, consumed half or more of the bag? This, by the way, is the very reason I rarely buy chips. The allure of that salty goodness is too hard to ignore, and allure is what the food manufactures are selling, from the packaging to the fat-laden contents. The more you eat, the more you want. Remember the commercial that challenges the consumer to “just eat one,” followed by the assertion that no one can eat just one? The hidden message is, “Eat all you want.” When we trick ourselves into believing the bigger version is just one serving we’re paving the road ahead with poor health and bigger waistlines.
Food and beverage conglomerates do have an interest in nutrition, I’m sure, but their bottom line is to sell you and me on buying more and consuming more. The consequence is a surge in the number of people — young and old — with health problems. Children 11 and 12 have the arteries of 45 year old men, and many are showing symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Efforts to control behavior through legislation are doomed to fail. Fighting obesity requires moderation in consumption, better food choices, regular exercise and a commitment to good health. The added benefit is a longer life.
Despite being in a rural area, Las Vegas (New Mexico) is not a food desert. Most people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Whether that is the choice made is another matter. San Miguel County has a high rate of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in a state that ranks number 10 across the country in that category.
Living a healthy lifestyle is a personal choice. There is plenty of help for those who want to take charge of their well being. Whether you are tuning in to an exercise video on www.sparkpeople.tv or trying out the Mediterranean Diet, making good choices will lead to better health.
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