It’s been a while since I tackled a newsy topic on this blog. Why? Because it takes time – something I’ve had little of during my move from Chicago to Scottsdale, Arizona.
But recent stories on obesity have been bugging me, especially those focusing on the concept that it is better to be fit and fat than unfit and thin. Here’s a quick summary:
“The data suggest that half of overweight people and one-third of obese people are ‘metabolically healthy,’ ” reports The New York Times. “That means that despite their excess pounds, many overweight and obese adults have healthy levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and other risks for heart disease.”
While that’s good news from some Americans, there is another side to these statistics: half of the overweight and two-thirds of the obese adults studied are NOT “metabolically healthy.” The story adds that overweight and obese adults still face numerous other serious health problems.
About one-quarter of those who are considered thin suffer from “at least two cardiovascular risk factors typically associated with obesity.” So statistically speaking, one-fourth of thin people have health issues versus two-thirds of obese adults. Could it be that writers are missing the bigger picture here?
At the same time, the entire argument is mostly irrelevant. The real question is why are so many people – including those who stay fit – gaining weight in the first place? By some measures, the obesity rates are continuing to rise in much of the country, reports WebMd.
Take a look at some numbers:
- Number of states in which adult obesity rates went up: 37
- Number of states in which adult obesity rates went down: 0
Highest obesity rates for adults:
- Mississippi: Rank, 1 – 31.7%
- West Virginia: Rank, 2 – 30.6%
- Alabama: Rank, 3 – 30.1%
- Louisiana: Rank, 4 – 29.5%
- South Carolina: Rank, 5 – 29.2%
But even in the best state, Colorado, 18.4 percent of its residents are considered obese in this study.
Highest obesity rates for children:
- D.C.: Rank, 1 – 22.8%
- West Virginia: Rank, 2 – 20.9%
- Kentucky: Rank, 3 – 20.6%
- Tennessee: Rank, 4 – 20.0%
- North Carolina: Rank, 5 – 19.3%
The best state for children is Utah, where only 8.5 percent of the children are obese.
So as I asked above, what is causing so much obesity in the first place? When it comes to children, everything is, reports researchers Patricia Anderson and Kristin Butcher in their report Childhood Obesity: Trends and Potential Causes. While I’ve only had time to skim the report, they conclude:
The increase in childhood obesity seems to have begun between 1980 and 1988 and then continued during the 1990s.This period also saw children’s environments change in multiple ways that research suggests might be contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Over the critical time period, calorie-dense convenience foods and soft drinks were both increasingly available to children at school and increasingly advertised to children. Children consumed more soda pop. They also consumed more pre-prepared food and consumed more food away from home, as increases in dual-career or single-parent working families may have driven up demand for convenience.
The authors also blame a drop in physical activity caused by the increased reliance on cars and fewer opportunities for kids to exercise. Video games, TV and other media are blamed for a further drop in activity:
Taken together, research on obesity singles out no one critical cause of the increase in children’s obesity. Rather, many complementary developments seem to have upset the crucial energy balance by simultaneously increasing children’s energy intake and decreasing their energy expenditure.
I disagree on this final point, even though I lack scientific proof. I believe that time will show that processed food not only results in higher weights, it actually encourages decreased physical activity. Why?
It goes to my personal experiences as a runner. Back when my wife was pregnant with Lael, I vowed to lose some weight. By today’s definitions, I was a fit, overweight runner, despite eating “healthy.” In fact, I never understood how I could run 6 miles a day with an 800-1,000 foot climb in the middle of the run and still be gaining weight.
I ate a lot of vegetables. I ate lots of meat. I ate some candy, a modest about of starch and lots of fruit. But something was still wrong.
So here was what I had to do to lose weight: I had to stop eating virtually all processed American food and instead get 80-90 percent of my food from the farmer’s market. That’s an oversimplification, but I quickly lost 40 pounds.
I gained about 10 pounds back when I relented a bit and began eating some American foods, like occasional cookies and other processed crap. Hey, I’m human.
Keeping my weight down during two years in Chicago proved spectacularly difficult over the winters when farmer’s markets closed and the availability of fresh produce dropped significantly. But my time in Chicago helped clarify what is wrong with American food.
Here’s some of the things I learned:
- If the food comes wrapped in a non-refrigerated package, it’s generally going to contain too many calories. This means everything from crackers to cereal.
- There’s plenty to avoid in the refrigerated and frozen sections, too.
- Large quantities of meat and milk make you feel tired and less inclined to exercise.
- Candy, cookies and other junk food generally make you more hungry than you otherwise would be. This includes junk from supposedly “healthier” food stores.
- Corn syrup and other sugars make you feel shaky and weak, which makes you less inclined to work out.
- Salty foods make you feel bloated and less likely to exercise. (Not everyone is affected equally by sodium.)
- Greasy foods often make you feel sluggish and less likely to work out.
- Heavy starch and fat meals, such as huge bowls of white-flour pasta and oily pasta sauce, make you feel sluggish and sleepy.
- Most restaurants do NOT serve healthy food. Chains tend to be the worse, even some of the high-end ones. You are not supposed to feel nauseous or stuffed like a Cornish game hen after a meal out. Feeling stuffed or nauseous is definitely a deterrent to exercising.
- A meat serving should be no larger than a deck of cards.
- Large quantities of fruit and vegetables are required not only to stay thin, but healthy. When I say large, I mean fruit and vegetables should constitute a whopping percent of your daily caloric intake.
Like I said, this is based on MY personal experience. Those experiences have led me to believe that most Americans are NOT at fault for gaining so much weight. Instead, advertising, a culture that embraces self-gratification via food, ingredient substitutions and inappropriate ingredients such as corn syrup are more to blame than so-called self-control issues.
Worse, profit-hungry food manufacturers have made food incredibly addictive. Why do you think such huge profits are made off of caffeine-laden products such as coffee and sodas? Chocolate and some sugars also have addictive properties.
Until we wake up and recognize that America’s food culture has been hijacked by those who do not have our health in their best interest, America’s real epidemic of poor nutrition will continue unabated.