The American Obesity Epidemic
The Health Consequences of the “Typical American Diet”
Americans are dangerously overweight, with more than 1 in 3 considered obese. The graph on the left titled “Obesity in America” illustrates just how high those percentages are. The numbers are staggering.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the last 30 years, the obesity rates in America have doubled for adults, and tripled for children! This comes as no surprise, considering that this gigantic increase directly coincides with the rise of the “fast food” revolution.
The health consequences of obesity can be severe, and even life threatening. The Office of the Surgeon General lists many of the problems associated with obesity.
- Premature Death
- Heart Disease
- Breathing Problems
- Reproductive Complications
- Gall Bladder Disease
- Increased Surgical Risk
Experts agree that the main culprit for this epidemic is the “Typical American Diet” otherwise known as the “Western Diet” which is predominately heavy in fat and sugar.
Americans typically fall into one of two groups: the “Western” eaters, or the “prudent” eaters.
Prudent eaters are aware of the importance of good dietary nutrition. They eat diets that are predominately vegetarian, with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Prudent eaters not only can spell Q U I N O A, but they can also pronounce it correctly!
Prudent eaters frequent gyms, wear out running shoes regularly, and spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors.
On the other hand, Western eaters are more likely to go for “quantity” over “quality”.
Western eaters frequent fast food drive throughs, pizza parlors, and pre-packaged food items. The Western eater gets excited when he discovers a sale on Twinkies or Oreo Cookies. The Western eater actually believes the claim that Captain Crunch is part of a healthy breakfast!
As a result, the typical Western child can identify less than 6 different fruits, and even fewer vegetables.
The Western eater gets new running shoes when he GROWS out of them, because he almost never wears them out! The Western eater pays a great deal of money for expensive television sets and a monthly cable bill, and to justify the cost, he prioritizes his time so that he gets the maximum viewing time available each day.
The billboards depicted on the right illustrate just how insane this problem has become.
The top billboard attempts to bring awareness of the severity of the obesity crisis, while just below it another billboard promotes fast food in a fun and visually appealing manner.
The women depicted in both advertisements are so similar in appearance, that they look like they could be the same person! Coincidence?
A study by Gladys Block, professor of epidemiology and public health and nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that nearly one-third of all calories consumed by the majority of Americans consists of nutrient-poor junk food.
“Her findings, published in the June, 2004 issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, show that three food groups – sweets and desserts, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages – comprise almost 25 percent of all calories consumed by Americans. Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks make up another five percent, bringing the total energy contributed by nutrient-poor foods to at least 30 percent of the total calorie intake”.
‘What is really alarming is the major contribution of ’empty calories’ in the American diet,’ said Block. ‘We know people are eating a lot of junk food, but to have almost one-third of Americans’ calories coming from those categories is a shocker. It’s no wonder there’s an obesity epidemic in this country’ ” (Yang, 2004).
To put this concept into perspective, imagine eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch, and then sitting down at dinner to a plate loaded with shortening, sugar, and salt! This is essentially what is happening when thirty percent of your diet consists of junk food.
Dr. Latetia Moore, an epidemiologist for the CDC, was quoted to say, “One contributing factor is the fact that the way we eat has changed over the last 50 years. Americans are eating more processed foods and eating out a lot more frequently. The foods offered in restaurants, snack shops, and in vending machines are higher in sugar, calories, and fat than what we typically prepare in our own homes. We are surrounded by food. We are constantly bombarded by it. We’re consuming larger portion sizes and more calories than ever before” (Obesity Epidemic, 2011).
While it is disturbing to see just how prevalent obesity is in our country, it is even more troubling when you factor in our children. More and more children are falling prey to the seduction of fast food. They are gaining weight at an alarming rate. These children are unlikely to change their eating habits as adults, and those habits will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
In a letter to the President of the United States on childhood obesity, Melody Barnes, Chair, Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and Director, Domestic Policy Council, stated that “Obesity is estimated to cause 112,000 deaths per year in the United States, and one-third of all children born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime” (Barnes, 2010).
In her “Let’s Move” initiative, created to combat the obesity crisis, First Lady Michelle Obama shares her own personal experiences of her struggle to teach healthy habits to her children.
“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition” (Obama, 2010).
“Lets Move” is a fairly comprehensive plan designed to dramatically reduce the rates of childhood obesity by the year 2030. You can get access to the entire initiative at:
Barnes, M. 2010. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity: Report To The President. May, 2010. Retrieved on October 12, 2011 from: http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/TaskForce_on_Childhood_Obesity_May2010_FullReport.pdf
Bocco, D. 2010. Typical American Diet. Retrieved on October 23, 2011 from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/197885-the-typical-american-diet/
CDC, 2011. Obesity: Halting the Epidemic by Making Health Easier At A Glance 2011. Retrieved on October 10, 2011 from: http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/obesity.htm
Obama, M. 2010. Lets Move! Initiative. Retrieved on October 13, 2011 from: http://www.letsmove.gov/about
Obesity Epidemic, 2011. Retrieved on October 12, 2011 from: http://www.cdc.gov/CDCTV/ObesityEpidemic/Transcripts/ObesityEpidemic.pdf
Yang, 2004. Press Release. UC Berkley News. Retrieved on October 13, 2011 from: http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/06/01_usdiet.shtml