Thursday, 17 September 2009

the swelling of america

today i was doing some research for something i am writing and came across this presentation on the CDC website. i was just shocked to see how fat my country had become in such a short amount of time. it seriously seems unprecedented. just a quick scroll through these slides illustrate how much fatter we have become.

please note that obesity "is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight. For example, a 5-foot, 9-inch adult who weighs 203 pounds would have a BMI of 30, thus putting this person into the obese category."

if you are curious about your BMI you can calculate it here.
this is a cool chart that tells you what you would need to weigh to be obese, overweight, normal, and underweight. . .

obviously, our country is in BAD shape. i am sure there are a number of reasons. i want to know what colorado is doing to remain the least obese of all the states. i am also so curious how and why this happened??!

michael pollan seems to think that it has to do with the farm bill. he writes:
The current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.

this is from the article "you are what you grow" from NYT april 2007. it is an interesting primer into pollan's argument.

some additional interesting facts, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was invented as a cheap sweetener in the late 70's. use of HFCS grew rapidly, from less than three million short tons in 1980 to almost 8 million short tons in 1995. during the late 1990s, use of sugar actually declined as it was eclipsed by HFCS. today Americans consume more HFCS than sugar.

obesity is the #2 cause of preventable death in the US. #1 is using tobacco. my guess is that for the mormon population obesity is the #1 cause of preventable death, because so few people who identify as mormon, smoke.

in 2004 the National Cancer Institute announced that "energy imbalance" was one of the highest causes of cancer:
At a time when nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight or obese, compelling evidence suggests that excess body weight is a risk factor for many cancers. However, in terms of weight-related factors, body weight alone does not completely determine an individual's ability to prevent or survive cancer. Instead, cancer researchers use the term "energy balance" to describe the complex interaction among diet, physical activity, and genetics on growth and body weight over an individual's lifetime and how those factors may influence cancer risk.

NCI has supported epidemiologic research in large cohort and case-control studies looking at the effects of weight, diet, physical activity, and cancer outcomes. These and other studies suggest that being overweight or obese increases the risk for postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, endometrial cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and several other cancers.
you can read more about this at this link

i have watched loved ones suffer and succumb to cancer. it is miserable, stinky, and sometimes (NOT ALL) preventable. you'd think that knowing that being overweight or obese can increase your risk for cancer would motivate people to exercise and eat healthier. but according to the slides above, no one is listening, or no one cares.

that is my soapbox for the day . . . i don't know what we can do to reverse this AND i'd love to hear your thoughts.


ginger said...

Wow. That is disturbing. I mean to see such a transformation in my short lifetime.

I would definitely look at HFCS as a big contributor. I would imagine the increase in TV/video game/computer usage is huge too.

I'd be interested in seeing the size of different age groups during these years too. Babyboomers are getting old and, broadly speaking, old people get fat. I'm not saying that accounts for all or even most of national obesity numbers, but is probably a factor as well.

Thanks for sharing these.

joshuapackard said...

As an anesthesiologist, obesity is one of the most dangerous and frustrating of illnesses. It makes everything more difficult and dangerous - from getting an iv to intubating to avoiding a heart attack or stroke perioperatively. Obesity directly leads to heart disease, pulmonary disorders, sleep disorders, joint disorders - you name it, obesity is a contributing cause. It is probably a huge cause healthcare costs are skyrocketing. Cheap calories and expensive veggies/fruits could contribute. Ditto for computers. But, I'm going to say something very republican here - ultimately we have to take responsibility for our expanding waist line. If we notice ourself ballooning then we should exercise more and eat less. Weight control is reall that simple. Sure there's a genetic component and an evolutionary disadvantage because our ancestors who could horde calories survived better - and viola, we not have these traits with a plethora of food (at least in the West). But ultimately it's up to us.