There is no way to sugar-coat it (no pun intended): Americans are fat. Over 160 million Americans are either overweight or obese. Even more concerning, nearly 14 million of those are children and adolescents. The consequences of this epidemic are nearly catastrophic. It is estimated that obesity accounts for as much as $190 billion annually of all medical expenses. The cost of medical care for obese patients is estimated to be somewhere between 36% to 150% higher than for non-obese patients.
Of course, the negative consequences of our ballooning weight aren’t only financial. The health issues that are on the rise due to obesity are truly alarming. As the numbers on our bathroom scales go up, so does the number of cases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, respiratory disease, poor cognitive health, and musculoskeletal disorders. As for that childhood obesity, it is believed that today’s children may be the first generation in U.S. history to lead shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.
So, why is this happening in our country? For one thing, we Americans devour fast food at a rate not seen anywhere else in the world and certainly more than we ever did in our past. Drive-through fast food and prepackaged food from the grocery store may be delicious (and sometimes even cheap), but it is loaded with fat, sugar, and salt. And have you been to a restaurant lately and observed the portion size of the meals? Doggie bag, please! Not only do we eat more, but we move less than at any time in our country’s history. Most of our jobs do not require much exercise, and we are in love with our cars and trucks. Many of us live in communities that are not conducive to walking to work or the store.
In spite of our love affair with burgers, fries, and sodas, Americans are obsessed with diets. We spend over $20 billion annually on weight loss schemes, from diet books and pills all the way up to last-resort surgeries like lap-bands and liposuction. Popular nutrition “wisdom” and fad diets have come and gone quickly through the years. In spite of this amazing outlay of money on diet fixes, we continue to get fatter.
What can we do about this alarming trend? It may be best to start early, with our children and grandchildren. Get them outside to blow off steam as often as possible. Schools have been doing away with recess and physical education at a time when it is needed most. Kids should have a minimum of 60 minutes of sustained physical activity every day, but most fall short of fulfilling this need. Sports programs should be more readily available through schools. Any money spent on these programs will be made up for through lower medical costs.
We also need to begin to understand the difference between diet and nutrition. Fad diets and diets that are particularly restrictive or extreme won’t result in permanent weight loss and may even be harmful to our health. Instead, learning to eat a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish or chicken, whole grains, and nuts can result in long-term weight loss and overall better health. We must find ways to move around more, regardless of our age or current health restrictions. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not so difficult: eat healthy foods, eat less food, and move more. It is possible for almost every American to work towards this lifestyle, and the more you work towards it the easier it becomes. Let’s do it, America! For ourselves, for our kids, and for our country.