Wednesday, June 4, 2008

American Obesity Epidemic?

My coworkers and I had a conversation yesterday about the increasing problem of obesity in America. I realize that this can be an uncomfortable subject, but here are some sobering statistics:

During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States.

Currently, more than 64% of US adults are either overweight
or obese, according to results from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES). This figure represents a 14% increase in the
prevalence rate from NHANES III (1988-94) and a 36% increase from NHANES II
(1976 -80). (Prevalence is the percentage of the population that falls into the
designated category.)

The greatest increase took place in the obese group (Body Mass Index > 30), where the prevalence doubled from NHANES II (1976-80). Roughly 59 million American adults are in this group, which is at the greatest health risk. (Please note that NHANES data are based on weights and heights as actually measured by trained health professionals using standardized measuring equipment.) (source)

Obesity has been linked to increases in diabetes and cancer as well as negative stigma and bias in employment, education and society in general (source).

We debated the sources and solutions of this growing problem. Increased health problems tax our already overburdened health care system. Our automobiles have grown to accommodate the 'average' American. According to a recent University of Illinois study, Americans waste an extra $Billion in fuel costs due to being overweight(source). Airlines are already charging x-large passengers for two seats. They also have begun to charge for our first bag. Could the future bring us to a point where everyone is weighed in and charged by the pound?

As for solutions, we could not arrive at any that would either be feasible and/or acceptable to the general public. We mostly fixated on our diets...the large amounts of fast food, the over sized portions that we have come to expect. We did not heavily discuss the relative lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle many have settled in to, but I hold that as one key to the puzzle. Several ideas that were floated were: mandatory portion control in restaurants, special taxes for 'junk food' (how that is defined opens cans of worms), luxury taxes on any restaurant, and increased nutritional information in restaurants. None of these seemed to really be a feasible solution and the conversation drifted to another topic...but I thought it might be good to continue the discussion here.

My opinion is that the obesity problem can be directly traced to our affluence. It is one of the drawbacks to having it all. Our lives are extremely busy and stressful, which leaves little time for meal planning and physical activity. This is a recipe for disaster, of course. I think one good source of diet info and advice might be In Defense of Food, but I hesitate to endorse any one diet or solution. Many of the ideas in that book could help many people, but it may not be a fit for everyone.

Bottom line, a healthy diet and regular exercise will prevent many ill affects, but finding the motivation is extremely difficult. Providing the motivation to those that do not want it is nearly impossible.

Any ideas?

More on American Obesity...


Winston Smith said...

Instead of a Big Brother approach to controlling chub, how about earlier preventative measures? I know little about proper food consumption, albeit that is no fault but my own having a mother as dedicated to nutrition as my own, but what is a "proper" portion size? What are good carbs and bad carbs and where can I get them? Fad diets really skew what I think I should eat, other than a ton of salad, but that only goes so far and then I'm back on the heavy foods.

In all honesty, and maybe its the inner athlete hidden inside this michelin man body, a little exercise does the trick. I feel better, eat better and think better after a bike ride or a quick run.

And finally, maybe people are just bigger boned? :-D

Chief said...

You've highlighted the problem...

In my view, the government cannot and should not control personal responsibility. But when the individual cannot or will not take care of himself at the detriment of society, what role does the government take to remedy the situation?

Winston Smith said...

Thought Police

Chief said...

Karma Police

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