The Obesity Problem…Whose Fault Is It?

Last week in the news the CDC released the results of a study that showed that

 …by 2030, 42 percent of American adults will be obese, compared to 34 percent now, and 11 percent will be severely obese, compared to the current 6 percent.

Another one-third of American adults are overweight, and one-third of children aged 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index – a measure of height to weight – of 30 or greater. Overweight means a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

Talk about depressing.  America leads the world in the percentage of adults that are considered obese and we seem to be running away with the lead.  In related news last week the Institute of Medicine released a (478 page!) report that has met with some controversy as it stated that obesity is not a result of lack of willpower, but rather is a result of our “obesogenic” environment, which promotes increased food intake, unhealthy food and lack of physical activity.  The report was released at a 3 day conference titled “The Weight of the Nation” and was hosted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  According to one committee member, Shiriki Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine,

The average person cannot maintain a healthy weight in this obesity-promoting environment.

The report is meeting with resistance from the food industry and lawmakers as it advocates policy changes, such as taxing sugary beverages.

I don’t know how I feel about this.  We absolutely have a problem, and it has grown significantly since 1980(when the percent of obese Americans was 15%).  While I agree that there is more at work here than shear willpower, a report such as this, which seems to remove any blame from individuals and which sees the solution to the obesity problem rooted in taxes and policy changes, I think misses the mark.  Interestingly, as I sit in Starbucks composing this blog a large (yes, obese) woman walked by me with one of those Frappuccino drinks loaded with whipped cream on top.  Is she not responsible for making this choice?  I truly doubt she isn’t aware that what she is drinking is loaded with calories (between 500 and 650, depending on the flavor she has).  Is a tax on that drink, which is already around $4 going to influence her to make a different choice?  I doubt it.

The IOM report called for a change in farm policy which provides incentives to farmers to grown certain crops such as wheat and cotton, taking away farm land which could be used to grow more fruits and vegetables.  While I agree farm policy needs to be changed (which encourages farmers to grow way more corn and soy than we need…which is what leads to these products showing up in absolutely everything), the IOM states that this lack of land devoted to growing fruits and vegetables has resulted in a situation where

…U.S. farms do not produce enough fresh produce for all Americans to eat the recommended amounts.

WHAT?  There isn’t enough produce for Americans to get their 3-5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables?  Are you f’ing kidding me?  When was the last time you walked into a supermarket and the produce section was empty?  Have you ever walked in to find the store out of apples?  Out of broccoli?  Out of anything in the produce category?

It gets worse.

…the IOM panel argues that people cannot truly exercise “personal choice” because their options are severely limited, and “biased toward the unhealthy end of the continuum.”

As an example the panel noted the lack of sidewalks makes it impossible for people to walk places.  They called for tax incentives for developers to build sidewalks and trails.  Call me naive, but I really don’t think building more sidewalks is going to solve the obesity problem.  And while I’m not saying that I have the answer, it makes me angry that we are trying to move away from making individuals actually responsible for their health.  While I understand there are things about obesity that we do not yet fully understand, I think more education about what constitutes healthy food choices and more physical activity is what is needed.  I think our government is partly to blame for pushing their food pyramid, which in my opinion, pushes carbs and dairy and not enough protein and healthy fats.  I think people are responsible for their health, and for educating themselves, although I realize that there is so much poor information about nutrition that it’s no wonder people are confused.  Do I think the food industry deserves some blame?  Yes, because they continue to produce and market total crap…but if we didn’t buy it, they would stop making it.  So ultimately I still think we are all free to make our own choices, and you can’t really lay the blame on the food industry.

I apologize if this blog is a bit rough around the edges, but I wanted to get it posted today because HBO is airing a documentary titled “The Weight of the Nation” tonight (Monday, May 14) at 8 PM (parts 1 & 2) and Tuesday, May 15th (parts 3 & 4).  For more information, see here.  I have heard that it is open for anyone to see, whether you subscribe to HBO or not, although I don’t know if that is true or not.  I plan to check it out.

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About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college football...my teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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