Are We Becoming the Obese States of America?

If you talk to a few of your friends or neighbors, you'll soon discover that about half of them are on some sort of diet. Many of these "plans" are mere fad diets, many of which are endorsed by the latest Hollywood celebrity. Each year, dozens of new diet books are published, preaching new and some not-so-new diet ideas and techniques. Go through any supermarket checkout aisle, and you'll see at least a couple nutrition and diet magazines with a number of women's magazines all promoting diets and dieting.

The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Each year, Americans spend over $30 billion on diet books, tapes, videos, and special weight loss foods. We spend at least double that amount on diet medication, hospitalization and bariatric surgery each year as well. Despite all this money being spent, the number of obese people is increasing rapidly.

It's well known that obesity causes a number of health problems -- heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure amongst others. Even some forms of cancer have been found to far more prevalent in people who are overweight or obese compared to those with no weight issues.

According to the government, in 2002, 65.2% of all adults in the United States were overweight, and 31.1% of the were obese. These figures were about the same through every demographic -- rich or poor, male or female. Back in 1994, the percentages were 56.0% of all adults were overweight and 23.3% were obese. For kids, the numbers are almost as bad: 15.8% of all kids aged between 6 and 11 were overweight in 2002, and 16.1% of all teenagers were found to be overweight.

All of us over the last few decades have become sedentary. Most of us have jobs where we sit at a desk all day, typing on a computer keyboard. At home, we're normally so tired that we don't go for long walks, or play a sport or toss a ball with the kids. We don't get up to change the channel on our televisions, we press a button on a remote control. We don't walk to the convenience store, we get in our cars and drive the 4 blocks instead. We don't walk up a flight of stairs anymore; instead, we take the elevator. Instead of wandering around a library to check out books, we look things up on the Internet. Instead of walking through a movie theater to see a movie, we plop a DVD in the machine and sit down and watch. It's as if we've gone out of our way to eliminate the need to do any physical activity!

Instead of doing the simple things that we used to before everything became "labor-saving", like mowing the lawn with a push mower instead of riding a lawn tractor, or walking to school instead of taking the bus to go the 12 blocks, we now find ourselves fat and getting fatter, and buying fad exercise videos that we'll watch once and never use again.

Even the food that we eat has changed, and not for the better. Even though we've reduced the level of our physical activity, we're consuming more calories, usually in convenient foods that are loaded with unnecessary calories and deficient in necessary nutrients. We're eating more grain than we used to, but it is nearly all refined grains, where the goodness has been removed. Only 2 percent of the wheat we consume in its various forms is whole wheat. According to the USDA, we're eating more fruits and vegetables, but only because they have decided to count the potatoes in French fries and potato chips as being a vegetable. Potatoes now represent almost a third of our fruits and vegetable consumption. While there is some nutrient value in potato, I think we'd all agree that a potato isn't nearly as good for us as an apple or beans.

We're drinking less milk than before, but we're eating more cheese, normally processed cheese. Processed cheeses tend to be high in saturated fats, so while eating cheese should be healthy for us, it's causing us harm as well. We're eating less red meats due to the campaign away from high-fat meats, but we've replaced it with fried and batter-fried chicken which contains even more fat than the red meat it's replacing. With the drop in milk consumption in children has come an increase in the consumption of soft drinks. Remember, soft drinks are composed mostly of carbonated water and sugar. No vitamins, no minerals and no protein.

When we've tried to do better, cutting back on the amount of butter we consume, we've replaced it with margarines made with saturated fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. And because we think we've made a healthy choice, we're eating more of it than ever before. As for sugar consumption -- the amount of sugar the average American consumes is climbing rapidly, mostly in the form of sugars added to drinks, cakes and other desserts.

Many of these problems could be averted if only we could avoid fast foods and instant processed dinners and get back to making real dinners with real food from scratch. It sounds like an impossibility given our hectic lives and our lack of energy. But when you think of how much you're spending on the convenience of eating quick but unhealthy food, and the time you spend trying to exercise off the pounds that you keep gaining, it would be far easier and cheaper to cut back on convenience, and get back to healthy meals and healthy eating. Our grandparents ate better than we are, even with problems like the Dustbowl, the Depression, and war rationing. And many of them were healthier at our age than we are now. Why can't we eat right and live right nowadays?

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