As anyone can imagine from the gray hair upon my head, when I was a child the world was a different place. There were corner stores, rotary phones and the only restaurants were a hot dog stand and a family owned establishment offering homed cooked meals. It was a time when we left our doors unlocked, ate meals as a family and practically everyone smoked. We live in quite a different world today.
Technology has obviously advanced us to the point beyond rotary phones and opened up the doors of Dick Tracy and Maxwell Smart where we all carry a phone around with us. These advances have benefited us all. In regards to our health many strides have been made. Technology has advanced the medical community in many areas offering a higher quality of care and lab equipment which has led to the discovery of new drugs and procedures to heal our ills. We discovered that smoking was detrimental to our health and joined forces to take on the large tobacco industry and force them to provide warning labels and stop advertising to our youth.
Today, our collective health is in danger again. A mere twenty-five years ago less than 10% of the American population was considered obese. Now over 30% of Americans are documented as being obese with the largest growth rate being in the south. Mintel, a market research leader, found that only 25% of survey respondents said they suffer from or have been diagnosed as being obese or overweight. According to the Center for Disease Control, however, 67% of Americans fall into this category and likewise Mintel found 65% of the respondents were actually obese or overweight.
What is the cause? It is a combination of factors. Some blame our increase in sugar intake. There are indicators that suggest the advances in technology have resulted in a decrease in physical activity. Our habits have changed. Our busy lifestyles have led to the creation of fast food which in itself is a great idea but has resulted in the creation of an industry that offers fried, high calorie, and high fat choices. It has only been recently these restaurants started to offer meals on the lighter side. But even a salad can be misleading on their menus and contain huge amounts of calories. When was the last time you spent eating your meals at the kitchen table with the family or do you eat most of your meals sitting in front of the TV? Unfortunately, from the statistics most Americans do not follow good eating habits.
I believe we must make a decision to change. I believe education and setting a good example for our youth is vital in accomplishing this goal. It took many years for this nation to stand up and take an active role in educating the public about the dangers of smoking. The FDA recently warned General Mills to stop making specific cholesterol lowering claims about Cheerios claiming it was misleading to the public. The FDA allows the claim, “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high and high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber may or might reduce the risk of heart disease.” However, this reminds me of the days when cigarettes warnings said may or may not cause cancer. The FDA claim gives the illusion we don’t know this to be true and makes people believe it doesn’t matter what we eat. We need to stop catering to the food industry and demand better nutrition labels. We need to demand the fast food industry provide nutrition information and better food choices. We must educate our children in proper nutrition and exercise. We need to eat as a family and rebuild our relationships. We need to turn off the TV and take the kids outside to play. A fundamental change is needed. We can overcome this false illusion people have of their health.
I wrote this article for The Henry County Times originally published 23 September 2009 under the title, Warning: Americans are in denial about their health.