Monday, January 12, 2009

Obesity Update

The National Center for Health Statistics recently revealed that the number of obese American adults now outweighs the number of those who are merely overweight.  In a 2006 study of 4,356 adults over the age of 20, the NCHS found that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese compared to 32.7 who are overweight.  With this in mind it's apparent that the efforts made to help with obesity in recent years in the U.S. have not been very effective.  The obesity numbers do not seem to be leveling off, but are still increasing every year.  It was found that since 1980, the amount of people overweight has stayed constant while the rate of people who are obese has increased fairly rapidly.  Because we all know that obesity raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, and other conditions we should consider this a threat to public health.  

I feel that this recession is just going to put Americans in an even worse position for their health.  You'd think with less money and more expensive prices that Americans would just eat less in general because they'd have less to spend on food.  However, in our country, people will be able to feed themselves just as much as they used to, but now, I predict that they will resort to buying cheaper, unhealthier options.  Fresh foods will become too expensive for families during this recession.  People will substitute fresh fruits and veggies, fish, and whole grains for foods high in sugar and saturated fat.  This is a step in the wrong direction.  How can we make healthier foods less expensive?

Just yesterday I saw the most outrageous commercial that promoted the corn industry (believed to be the cause of obesity in the U.S.).  You have to watch it, I would love to hear your reactions. (Pro-high fructose corn syrup commercial) A Female offered a popsicle to her male friend and he said "no thanks" at first because it had contents of high fructose corn syrup in it.  Good right?  The female went on to tell him that there is nothing wrong with high fructose corn syrup because it's just made from corn, has the same calories as sugar and honey, and that it is fine in moderation.  There's actually a commercial out there telling obese Americans that it's ok to eat high fructose corn syrup.   In my opinion, this commercial is a step in the wrong direction in regards to eating.  Of course the commercial was sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association in efforts to keep their products selling, ultimately making them more money.  It's all about money, not the health and wellness of our citizens.  Also, there is no way that people are going to eat high fructose corn syrup in moderation because it's in practically everything that's offered to us in our environment.  I would be curious to hear the percentage of products in Wegmans or Tops that include this ingredient.  In any event, this new obesity scare since the 1980's has been theorized by many that it's cause is due to our focus on growing corn in bulk amounts for cheap.  High fructose corn syrup is thought to be part of the reason for the increase in body
weight and health problems in our country.   In my opinion this commercial should be taken off the air, however, it is our right as citizens for freedom of speech.  It just makes me a little more aware of how industry's (corn industry) brought on by government have a way of controlling society through media.  The meat industry is the same way.

It's instances like this that make me look toward other places in the world that don't have these problems.  Why aren't other developed nations as obese as us?  What are they doing differently?  Well, for one, they don't specialize in high fructose corn syrup and tend to use more natural ingredients in their products.  America has a lot more damaging chemicals in our food.  Perhaps if we fixed this corn problem than that would show some changes and results. 
In addition, countries that have the highest levels of active transportation (walking, biking to work) generally have the lowest obesity rates.  According to a recent issue in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, only 12 percent of Americans use active transportation in the United States.  9 percent walk, 1 percent ride a bike, and 2 percent take a bus or train. In the meantime, one quarter to a third of Americans are obese.  62 percent in Sweden and 52 percent in the Netherlands either walk, bike, or use mass transit and their obesity rates are 9 and 11 percent.  Can you believe the huge difference?  This trend is not entirely the citizens faults however.  Our country does not always make it easy for us to get around physically.  Many cities and towns are set up so everything is spread out and far away from each other.  We also do not have a very good mass transit system compared to Europe.  I do believe Europeans are forced to walk and ride bikes more because their gas prices are much higher.  There are many factors that go into it, but the overall message is that we need to be moving our bodies more in our everyday lives to get around in addition to eating healthier foods.
  I feel that our country needs to set up more opportunities for people to get around instead of just using their cars.  People that do not vigorously exercise will at least get some sort of movement in their day by getting to and from places.  I propose that more biking paths and walkways be made as well as implementing more recycling bike programs like certain cities have.  In bike programs, you pay a small amount to rent a bike at one station and leave it in another bike station when you're done.  College campuses could implement them as well.  Some colleges already have bike programs setup.  Basically, anything that can be done to promote active transportation in the U.S. is a step in the right direction.  I would like to know other suggestions people have in addition to everyones stand on the issues presented.  What's your health input? 


  1. I was alarmed by the obesity vs overweight statistics that are currently out there. I cannot believe that the people in this country have allowed themselves to fall to this point. I have seen the one commercial you linked, as well as another on the same subject. I agree that they are trying to make it seem like high fructose corn syrup is the new way to go and we will continue to see those obesity numbers rise with this media push.

  2. The fact of the matter is being fit and active isn't a priority for many americans. People get so caught up in what everyone else wants them to do and never save enough time for what they need to do for themselves. My mom recently started working full time and she is constantly saying now that she doesn't have time for herself or to exercise and I told her very simply that its not that you don't have time you aren't making time. So as we progress through this new year lets make it a goal to make time for our bodies.

  3. I think that this post was full of information and points out the many different factors that have contributed to the high rates of obesity in this country. The food industry is very powerful in this country and major corporations control a lot of what people consume. The transportation of the people in this country outside of major metropolitan areas is mostly in automobiles. Leaving what I think is the most important factor the amount of physical activity that people get in their everyday lives. Putting a strong emphasis on physical education classes and community exercise programs is an idea that I think should be put in every community. Another change could be in the schedule of peoples work days as a major reason so many people say they do not exercise is that they do not have enough time during the day.

  4. Gundo,

    Two comments regarding some of the points you bring up and the questions, explicit or implicit, that you pose.

    First, the USA has been, from the middle of the last century onwards, designed around the car. Not only have your transportation corridors been designed for cars, but they have been designed against cyclists and pedestrians.

    Second, food in the USA has become a culture oriented around mass-production and mass portions. In Europe it is frequently about the quality of the ingredients and the preparation techniques.

    Generally people in Europe, at least those that care about food, would never use high-fructose corn syrup because it wouldn't taste as good.

    I have now moved to Hong Kong, but I have about a dozen different types of sugars on my shelf and about a dozen different types of honeys because they all taste different and have different effects on the cooking or baking process and the end result that I desire.

    I have never bought high-fructose corn syrup and cannot imagine why I would.

    Different values lead to different behaviours lead to different outcomes.