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Obesity: the epidemic sweeping America

by Nathan Barker - Copy Editor
Tue, Feb 20th 2018 12:00 pm

The United States has been facing an obesity epidemic for decades. Although there have been many attempts by public health to improve diet and activity, the problem continues to worsen. Overall, 70.7 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, making those of healthy weight the minority.

It’s hard to be optimistic at this point. How we raise the next generation of consumers will ultimately decide the fate of America’s growing waistline. Unfortunately, one in five adolescents ages 12-19, one in five kids ages 6-11, and one in ten preschoolers ages 2-5, are considered obese, not just overweight. Overweight children are more likely to stay overweight into adulthood, which increases the likelihood of early death. There have been many studies trying to pinpoint exactly why this problem is out of control, and the consensus seems to involve two key, and plainly obvious, factors: diet and activity level.  

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans are consuming 20 percent more calories in the year 2000 than they did in 1983. This can be linked to the increasing availability of processed foods. According to the World Health Organization, 11 percent of the American diet consists of fast food. Fast-foods are high in fat and low in nutritional value; instead of fast-food, it would be just as accurate to call it fake-food. Fast-foods are heavily marketed and are branded as classically American, swaying consumers to, well, consume.

In the 1990s, fat became public enemy number one. During this period, companies started offering low-fat or fat-free products. As it turns out, most food companies were just swapping hydrogenated oils and sugars in for the animal fats they removed from low-fat products. Hydrogenated oils are restructured vegetable oils that have high levels of trans-fats which can raise your bad cholesterol, lower your good cholesterol and increase your risks of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Added sugars can also disturb your metabolism by generating unhealthy spikes in insulin levels, which contribute to weight gain and diabetes.

Another  factor responsible for the obesity epidemic is the overall decrease in physical activity. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent  of Americans don’t get enough exercise. Most Americans sit throughout their workday, a stark contrast from how workplaces used to function. 

According to one study conducted by Dr. Timothy S. Church of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, only 20 percent of today’s jobs require at least moderate physical activity, as opposed to 50 percent of jobs in 1960. Church argues, “If we’re going to try to get to the root of what’s causing the obesity epidemic, work related physical activity needs to be in the discussion.” 

Although the workplace has certainly changed, Americans are also decreasing the physical activity in their routine lives outside of work. Americans walk the least out of all the industrialized countries, which speaks to our dependence on cars.

Research has found that sleep habits also affect weight. According to the Institute of Medicine, 50 out of 70 million Americans are sleep deprived or have sleep disorders. People who are deprived of sleep could be too tired to exercise, take in more calories and experience hormone changes that affect appetite.

Society has changed in many ways over the years, and the appeal of convenience is at the center of those changes; however, it would be an absurd and ultimately detrimental objective to continually minimize our physical activity. 

Moving forward, it’s important to understand that the obesity epidemic can only be fully remedied with changes in lifestyle. This means treating your body for what it is, a machine that requires constant care and upkeep. Eat less processed foods, decrease sugar intake, and get more exercise and quality sleep.

nbark2@u.brockport.edu

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