Obesity in America

overweightI’ve read a lot lately about obesity in the United States. For example today around 25% of US children are obese. Do you know how many US children are reported to have consumed the recommended levels of fruit, veggies, and grains? Less than 1 percent. Do you see a trend?

John Robbins writes in his book, “Diet for a New America” that 280,000 Americans die each year from diseases linked to excess weight. Further, Dr. Mark Hyman said in a recent Huffington Post blog that industrialized food (otherwise known as junk food) has addictive properties. He explains how Big Food industries like to tell people it’s all about their choices, but points out at the same time how Big Food drives consumer choices through hyperpalatable foods and insidious marketing.

Dr. Hyman states, “The reality is that many people live in food deserts where they can’t buy an apple or carrot, or live in communities that have no sidewalks or where it is unsafe to be out walking.”

I love food and I love to enjoy what I eat. That said, I’M generally very healthy. We eat out only occasionally and make most of our meals at home. We’re also vegan (we don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs…or wear leather for that matter). And we work out regularly. This makes my family a little bit out of the ordinary. Ok. A lot out of the ordinary.

I didn’t start out my life like this. My family was very poor and we ate the Standard American Diet (SAD) of meat and potatoes and all the in between. I liked cake, cookies, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. I still do. I just prepare vegan versions of these dishes at home. I also include lots of raw veggies and fruit in my daily diet as well.

Mine is an unusual tale. Most people who begin their lives with the SAD diet, continue on with it. And as John Robbins points out, it’s only a matter of time before deaths related to obesity overtake deaths related to smoking.

Here are some suggestions from both of these men (John Robbins and Dr. Mark Hyman) on what we can do to help solve this problem:

  • Eliminate Hidden Costs. Dr. Hyman suggests that we include in the cost of junk food the real cost such as its impact on health and lost productivity. I would add that we include the cost of the toll on the environment in addition to the amount of waste added to our landfills (have you seen the trash bins at junk food restaurants?). What you can do: Understand that when you pay a little more for healthy food now, you will reap benefits in your own health and an improved environment. And your money is a vote. When you spend money on tofu instead of turkey, it sends a message!
  • Subsidize Fruits and Veggies. No, we’re not talking about corn here. That’s because as Dr. Hyman points out that 80% of government subsidies go to soy and corn already. Why not change that percentage so more subsidies are going to apple or blueberry farmers? What you can do: Write to your members of Congress encouraging them to subsidize fruit and vegetable growers beside corn and soybean. Find local farmers through farmer’s markets and purchase fruits and veggies from them to keep them sustainable.
  • Eat Plant-Based Food. John Robbins encourages us that plant-based foods are better for the environment as well as for our bodies. What you can do: If you don’t think you can handle a 100% switch to vegetarianism meals, consider doing Meatless Mondays or Weekday Vegetarians. Find recipes for vegetarian meals online. Eat out less and cook more plant-based foods at home.
  • The Children are our Future. Other countries around the world have ended food marketing to children. Dr. Hyman suggests that we should do the same. What you can do: Join forces with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Or consider greatly reducing the number of hours your children spend in front of the TV.
  • Provide Better Food Choices for America’s Poor. Most of us have access to good fruits and veggies through farmer’s markets and grocery stores. We need to make sure these same options are available to America’s poor as well. What you can do: The Hope Collaborative is an organization that seeks to improve the health of people in Oakland, California and addresses the issues of lack of choice of grocery stores in poor neighborhoods. Find an organization like this one in your area to support. Contribute to Harvesters.

Consider taking action in the areas above where you can and make a difference.

It is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver. — Gandhi

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