We are a nation of overweight people, and the problem is becoming worse each year. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children in America are obese. The causes for this fat epidemic are many and can be linked to today’s American way of life.
Our society has changed tremendously in many ways in the past decades, and though there have been many advances in some areas, we’ve lost a lot in others. In the days of the “Beaver Cleaver” neighborhoods, Mother stayed at home and took care of the house, did the grocery shopping and prepared all the meals. That began to change in 1953, when two brothers named McDonald took out a franchise on their San Bernadino burger joint and expanded to nearby Downey and to Phoenix, Ariz., signaling the birth of the fast food restaurant, which really took off in the 1960s. Today, we see cars lined up at the drive-thru windows at Burger King and Taco Bell, and if one wants to dine at the Olive Garden, the Cheesecake Factory or Applebee’s on a Friday evening there might be a 50-minute wait.
More and more restaurants are posting the calorie counts for items on their menus, but even so, the use of extra salt and other additives in restaurant food to enhance the flavors and color can be hard on America’s waistline. Preservatives added to the food we buy at the grocery store and hormones that are found in meat and dairy products are also affecting our bodies in ways that America previously never had to worry about.
In a different direction, we are allowing our technology and our many conveniences to influence our health habits. Television used to be the only type of screen people watched at home, and stations used to sign off after the late-night movie; after 1 a.m. the only thing one could see on TV was the test pattern. Now TV and the Internet go 24-7. Kids growing up with this constant barrage of technology are more likely to prefer games played with their thumbs than those that require moving their whole bodies.
The human body was made for motion. Early humans were constantly on the go, and the hunting and gathering of food was their primary activity. Fruits and vegetables were freshly picked; some food could be stored away in baskets, but most produce went from plant to mouth with very little time spent between. This means that the food was consumed at its highest nutritional value; today we buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the store and they may stay in the refrigerator for a week or more, losing potency.
More people than ever are living alone and loneliness is also thought to contribute to weight gain. Individuals are more apt to indulge in “binge eating” because food provides comfort, at least in the short term.
Soft drinks are extremely popular in the United States, yet an excess of sugar is unhealthy. When diet sodas came on the market back in the 1970s lots of people switched and have been consuming billions of gallons of diet soda every year. It is not unheard of to see a parent fill a baby bottle with diet cola for their infant, cultivating in their child a taste for something unnatural when fruit juices or water would be much better for them and satisfy them more. The artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks are much sweeter than real sugar and this can actually stimulate one’s appetite, causing a food craving and totally defeating the reason for choosing the diet drink. Diet drinks usually contain caffeine as well, and this is bad for adults and very bad for small children.
Eating a balanced diet is easier than ever now that the USDA has come out with the new MyPlate nutrition guide. No longer do we have to measure food in ounces as the old Food Pyramid suggested, we merely need to make sure that about half the plate is covered by fruits and vegetables and the other half by protein and whole grains. Add some low-fat dairy such as milk or yogurt for a truly balanced meal. Be sure to drink lots of water, too, and forget the soda. You may crave it for a few short days, but once that is past, it will begin to lose its appeal, especially when you find yourself sleeping better, looking better and having more energy.
After your nutritious meal, get out of the house and take a walk. The hot days of summer are ending and this is the perfect time of year to begin to cultivate the habit. Even if you just walk around the block after every meal, or take one longer walk in the evening after dinner, you will notice an improvement in the way you feel. If you live alone, adopt a pet for company. Your new pet will help you be good to yourself by being more active.
When you do finally sit down at the computer, set a timer to go off in an hour so you’ll remember to get up and move around for five minutes. Step out into the yard. Vacuum the living room. Go and check on the neighbor. Do anything to break the mind-numbing spell cast by the screen in front of you and get your blood circulating. All of these suggestions are easy to do and they will change your life for the better.
Linda Field is an Enterprise community correspondent. Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.