“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995.” — Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of Trust for America’s Health, in 7 July 2011 press release.
Yes, America, you are getting fatter, and sicker, too. So says F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America‘s Future 2011, the latest in a series of annual reports on American weight-gain and fitness by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). In the past year, obesity rates increased in 16 states and didn’t decline in any state.
The ten states with the highest obesity rates are
1. Mississippi (34.4% now/ 19.4% in 1995)
2. Alabama (32.3%/ 15.7%)
3. West Virginia (32.2%/ 17.7% )
4. Tennessee (31.9%/ 16.4%)
5. Louisiana (31.6%/ 17%)
6. Kentucky (31.5%/ 16.6%)
7. Oklahoma (31.4%/ 12.9%)
8. South Carolina (30.9%/ 16.6%)
9. Arkansas (30.6%/ 17%)
10. Michigan (30.5%/ 17.2%)
Colorado has the lowest current obesity rate, 19.8% — up from 10.7% in 1995.
The health consequences of the climbing obesity rates are severe, the TFAH notes. Forty-three states now have diabetes rates over 7 percent, and 32 have rates above 8 percent. Every state has hypertension rates over 20 percent, with nine over 30 percent.
As the report’s title indicates, such massive health consequences put the nation itself at risk, threatening to leave Americans ill, unfit and broke. The trillion dollar question is, what do we do about the obesity epidemic?
The TFAH does a great job of establishing the problem, but its solutions seem less convincing to me. Three of its four main recommendations involve increasing or preserving federal funding for public health and prevention, school meal regulation enforcement, and child nutrition. If the Feds provide the money, they will call the shots, and we know what kind of dietary advice will underlie all their efforts: poor, counter-productive advice. More of the low-fat, high-carb insanity. The results will be more obesity, more diabetes, more hypertension.
The TFAH also recommends implementing something called the “National Physical Activity Plan.” In other words, an exercise program. That won’t work, either. Imagine that a young man weighing 200 pounds stops for lunch at Burger King, and has it his way: Double Whopper (900 calories, 51g carbs); Medium Fries (440 calories, 56g carbs); and a Medium Frozen Coke (140 calories, 40g carbs). He has just consumed 1,480 calories and 147 grams of carbohydrates in a single meal.
Many restaurants could provide a similar high-cal, high-carb feast. So could many convenience stores.
To work off the calories in that lunch, our young man would need to engage in heavy aerobics for two hours and 20 minutes, or swim laps for the same length of time, or walk at a 3.5 mph clip for four hours and 15 minutes (Exercise for weight loss | Mayo Clinic).
Is he likely to do that, and then another hour or two of exercise to start burning off body fat? No. But look on the bright side — maybe he’s a lumberjack. Still, it’s impossible to burn off body fat when his blood-stream is full of the insulin needed to handle carbohydrates. And active life-style or not, too many high-carb meals will wear out his pancreas.
The bottom-line is, avoiding the high-calorie, high-carb meal is the only practical way to lose weight and preserve your health. Does that mean no trips to Burger King? No, not at all — as long as having it your way means tossing the bun, the fries and the Coke. (But go ahead and have bacon with those burger patties.)
To be fair to the TFAH, it does add one more recommendation to its main four: that the food and beverage industry voluntarily “adopt strong, consistent standards for food marketing similar to those proposed in April 2011 by the Interagency Working Group, composed of representatives from four federal agencies – the Federal Trade Commission, CDC, Food and Drug Administration and the USDA.” That is, Big Food, Inc., should scale back its advertising, especially ads and promotions aimed at children.
More likely, we’ll get a lecture from Big Food on personal and parental responsibility. “It’s not our fault your kid is fat. Why did you let her eat so much?”
We wouldn’t accept the same logic from a drug pusher. “It’s not our fault your teenager over-dosed. Why did you let her have heroin?” No, we’d throw the creep in jail. But we’ll probably let Big Food go on pushing empty calories at us and our kids, using every tool of modern media. And when we over-dose on carbs and calories, damaging our pancreas and developing hypertension, Big Pharma will be there to sell us the medicine required to keep us alive and eating junk-food.
Well, folks, ultimately it is a matter of personal responsibility. You need to educate yourself, and then you need to tell Big Food where to shove its chips, fries and snack cakes. Then tell Big Pharma where to shove its miracle cures for type-2 diabetes because you won’t need them.
Do it for yourself — and do it for your country.