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Obesity – An American Epidemic

By Asha Kreiling

I remember going into a Food 4 Less last year for the first time. I wanted to pick up some snacks on my way to work, but as a picky, vegetarian, health-conscious shopper, this was no easy task. It seemed as if every food product in the store was packaged, processed and loaded with junk ingredients. The cereal aisle was filled with sugar, the drink aisle with high fructose corn syrup, the frozen food aisle with fat and salt, and the snack aisle with all of the above. I probably ended up buying a banana, but I remember being amazed by the family in front of me, who loaded the checkout belt with frozen TV dinners, chips, soda, cup a noodles, cupcakes, and the like. I found the experience unsettling but, unfortunately, this is the norm of American grocery shopping.

Poor quality foods found in typical grocery stores, the ubiquity of fast food restaurants, physical inactivity, as well as genetic factors all contribute to the alarming rates of obesity in America. Over one-third (35.7%) of adults and approximately 1 in 6  (17% or 12.5 million) children under age 19 are obese. A person is determined to be obese if his/her body mass index (BMI), which correlates to the amount of body fat, is 30 or higher. Calculate your BMI here:http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/index.html

Seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are chronic diseases. This includes diabetes and stroke, along with heart disease and cancer at the top of the list. Obesity is a major contributor to all of these. Dramatic increases in obesity rates over the past 50 years can be attributed to changes in our environment, culture, and behavior.

Americans are bombarded with junk and fast food that are often more available, convenient and affordable than healthier options. Portions have become larger, and the sugar, fat, salt, and overall calorie content of most foods are far more than we should consume. So much of the food that Americans eat is high in calories but very low in nutrient content. The USDA calls these foods with calories from solid fats and added sugars “empty calories.” They taste good and make us feel full, but our bodies remain deprived of important nutrients, so really we are starving. Thus, we keep eating to satisfy cravings and to fill the void of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, but typical processed food and fast food do nothing but make us fatter.

The way our neighborhoods are designed impacts our susceptibility to obesity as well. Living in suburbs or far away from city hubs often forces us to constantly drive to destinations rather than walk or bike. Being busy, tired, or lazy often results in poor choices such as ordering unhealthy take-out food or indulging in quick snacks full of salt, sugar, and fat. This, as well as other factors like watching too much TV or sitting at the computer, reduces our physical activity and increases our chances of becoming overweight or obese.

When I hear the word “epidemic,” I think bubonic plague or smallpox. Today’s epidemic — the leading killer of Americans — is obesity. Obesity and its related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are preventable. Exercising more, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food is a no-brainer. It isn’t hard to be healthy; what’s hard is resisting temptations and not succumbing to quick meals and unhealthy snacks. Seemingly healthier choices are often misleading. “Fat-free” products often have loads of sugar, while “sugar-free” products have artificial sweeteners that are potentially worse than actual sugar. What’s best is sticking to fresh, whole foods and staying physically active.

Teaching children the importance of nutrition and exercise early on helps them become accustomed to a healthy lifestyle. Caring about their health tends to remind us to be healthy ourselves.

Watch a video on sugar addiction and obesity in America: http://www.hungryforchange.tv/sugar-is-a-drug

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories/empty-calories.html

 

About Asha Kreiling

Asha Kerilling wrote for Green-Mom.com in 2012 and 2013. She is now working in environmental policy analysis and implementation in US cities.

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