A healthy diet and regular exercise lay the foundation of any personal wellness regimen, but reversing the American trend for abundance in the belly may take a little more than eating vegetables and going for a run. Trying to be healthy often frustrates people who don’t have the time, money, or access to fresh, wholesome foods to make it happen.
This lack of even the option to be healthier cuts across demographics of ethnicity and race. Recent research shows big disparities in obesity rates across these divides.
Before we take a look at Clinton’s and others’ solutions, a quick review of the statistics:
One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analyzed the most recently available CDC data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that almost 75% of men and 65% of women 25 or older are overweight or obese. The study went further, breaking down these statistics by certain racial, ethnic, gender and age demographics. Here’s our visual of the data:
The overall average is an increase from previous CDC reports and it further highlights the importance of targeting obesity efforts in communities of need. Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post corresponded with the study's lead author, Lin Yang, who had a dire, yet somewhat hopeful interpretation of the study:
Our estimates are very close to CDC’s estimates, and there is clearly not a trend of decline on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States. Thus, we strengthen the case for implementing policies and practices that span multiple sections and [are] designed to combat overweight and obesity. This will need a political will to support multi-level approaches through individual, health professional, community, environment and policy engagement to address this epidemic as a whole.”
Hopefully, drilling down into this data will help policy makers create a more targeted approach to answering questions about what we can do within low-income communities, especially those without proper access to healthy food, nutrition education, and safe affordable places to exercise.
Bill Clinton, once known for being slightly ample in girth but now skinny, weighed in on the issue recently as spokesperson for Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG), a 10-year initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. In a CNN piece, Clinton and his co-author Nancy Brown laud progress in school meals, and the Obama administration's Let’s Move program, but want to get kids moving even more. To that end AHG’s latest campaign will encourage 10 minutes of exercise everyday:
...the #Commit2Ten campaign asks everyone—not just children, but all of us—to add an additional 10 minutes of physical activity to our day. Take an evening walk with your kids, try a new exercise at the gym, walk with a colleague to lunch, or park a little farther away than you need to. The extra activity may seem small, but the consequences are enormous.”
Inspiring examples of helping kids exercise more can be found aplenty, including this compelling NPR story about a gym teacher who is promoting running and walking as a low-budget form of exercise. It’s so much better than Oreo sponsored math homework, or buying meals at the State fair.
Jane Brody of the New York Times recently discussed the preliminary results of a five-year study looking at the cost effectiveness of childhood obesity interventions (the study is also known, simply as CHOICES). The group found that a number of tactics work, but those with the highest potential placed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and/or eliminated advertising on TV that targets children.
Brody explains that the CHOICES team estimates changing TV ads would cost the U.S. $1.16 per person for two years, but would generate $80 million and save $343 million in healthcare costs over 10 years—a return on investment anyone would be proud of.
While Clinton and AHG put the onus on the individual to make personal choices, curtailing individual behavior is only one part of the formula. Brody continues:
The time is long overdue for legislators, schools, policy wonks and parents to deal more effectively with what is clearly one of the nation’s most costly health care problems.”
As the film Fed Up so aptly brought to the nation’s attention, encouraging Americans to eat less and exercise more may NOT be the only way to solve our weight problem. For instance, we also must address the very real, very manipulative practices of big food corporations. Until we gain better control of what foods are going into the marketplace, and educating the public about what’s in these foods, obesity rates will not drop dramatically.
For instance, a recent study attributed roughly 184,000 deaths a year worldwide to sugary drink consumption. Still, there’s hope: another report suggests that the soda tax in Mexico is making a difference in soda consumption, potentially offering some respite from the problems associated with sugary drinks.
Solutions are out there, and they are not terribly complicated, but their implementation depends on the public putting pressure in the right direction. Let’s continue to work towards education, personal actions, and supporting policies that will help our nation become a healthier one!
Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 2007-2012 via Journal of the American Medical Association
America’s getting even fatter: Startling growth in obesity over past 20 years via Washington Post
A Maine student’s homework, brought to you by Oreo via Vital Signs
Calories Don’t Count At State Fairs, Right? via Wall Street Journal
Prudent Ways to Fight Childhood Obesity via NY Times
Big Food Sounds Like Big Tobacco via Center for Science in the Public Interest
Sugary Drinks Take a Deathly Toll via NY Times