This is a different feeling blog than my normal. I'm compelled to stray this week. Before you read on, realize that there are many causes of overweight and obesity and many are out of peoples' control. Recognize that thin or skinny does not equate to health, nor does being overweight or even in the lower classification of obesity equate to poor health.
Before the blame game starts, let's look at some information that caught the attention of many Americans this week and has had the attention of many of us for years. This week, the Weight of the Nation Conference concluded and will be a HBO special next week, the topic of 20/20 Friday, May 11, and the inspiration for thousands of news articles, blogs, and discussions. A study released Monday predicted 42% of Americans will be obese by 2030 which is an increase of 8% over todays 34%. In children, obesity has increased from 5 percent in the early 1980's to 17 percent today with one cause sited as an increase in average calorie consumption in children from an average of 1,842 calories per day to 2,022 calories per day. Think about that for a moment. The difference is 180 calories! That's not a candy bar, or a piece of cake, or a bag of chips! It's less calories than all of these items. That may be the "cheese" sauce on the broccoli.
The other side of the energy balancing equation is activity, moving our bodies. (Remember May is Exercise Is Medicine Month®, how many days did you move this week?) Many communities do not have sidewalks making it unsafe and/or inconvenient for kids to walk to school and inconvenient or unsafe for adults to walk for exercise or to "run" their errands. Many of the communities that do have sidewalks don't promote walking to school. In 1977, 20 % of the back and forth to school trips were on foot for kids ages 5 to 15. By 2001, the number dropped to 12.5%. Think about this for a minute. Think about the energy expended, the health and test score improvement (or productivity for adults) benefits of being more active, and the economic savings of eliminating bus service, except for those kids with special needs, in a radius around schools appropriate for walking.
Look at the carpool line, LOTS of parents are driving their kids even though school bus service is provided. Some communities have adopted wonderful programs such as walking school buses with great success. To further add to the kids of today's lack of movement, only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provide daily physical education for all students. What happened to the lifetime sports movement of physical education between my days in high school and today?
Although sugar sweetened beverages make up a large portion of the beverages kids consume, these are not all Cokes and Pepsi's! Although over 40% of the American food budget is spent on prepackaged foods or restaurants, this is not all fast food and twinkies. And who is it that purchased all these foods and beverages? Who created the demand for the convenience, the demand for the "diet du jour" foods in the grocery store, the demand for the pill or potion or machine or garment that will take care of your weight problem while you "do nothing"!
How easy would it be to "fix the problem" if the solution to the rising obesity problem was as easy as taxing soda, or paying for prevention, or stoping commercials? I'm not saying that the big food industry, or government, or whoever is the scapegoat of the week doesn't share responsibility. Bottom line is that we're all in this together. We created the demand for the products, beverages, and the foods that have contributed to the rise in obesity. We have created the demand for large, extra large, and even ridiculously large portions for their "value". We allow our children to sit in front of screens and see all the commercials. We allowed the school systems to take the physical education out of schools, after all didn't we not like it ourselves!
We all share the blame, but most importantly we can all share the solution. Reality is that many of the scapegoats have done a lot to add choice to menus, decrease commercials- especially during prime kid time, reformulate products, provide half size portions- that are still larger than they used to be, to provide healthy or healthier choices, to provide information about what works for lasting weight management. It's each of our responsibility to take action. It's each of our responsibility to advocate for more physical education in schools and healthy options in the vending machines (they sell out just as quick!). It's each of our responsibility to listen to our guts, literally, and fuel our bodies with fruit and vegetables, small amounts of grains, and even less amounts of animal proteins. The only people advocating for some other way of eating or managing our health are making billions off of our ignorance and desperation. It's each of our responsibility to move more each and every day. It's our responsibility to make a change and to make an impact. It's not "their" fault that we Americans have made choices that has led us to be in the shape, or lack of shape, that we are in. We have created an Obesigenic environment, and we can create a healthy environment.
What will you do this week to improve your health and the health of your family and friends? What is in your control? Stuck on ideas or how to put them in action, check out the Take Action for the Health of the Nation site.
Julie is the founder and principal of NutriWell Coaching & Yoga. She brings over 25 years of experience working with individuals, groups, and corporations to wellness initiatives, weight management, nutrition, behavior modification, and personal training. Julie combines her acumen as a wellness coach with her expertise in nutrition and fitness to offer fresh dialogue and an innovative approach to health and weight management. Emphasizing client-driven, systematic and practical steps, Julie helps everyday people build confidence through sustainable weight management and nutrition programs. Julie holds a Master of Science degree in Sports Nutrition from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Science Health Education/ Health Promotion from the University of Florida. The curriculum for both degrees included extra course work in exercise physiology and kinesiology, psychology, and wellness topics.