Obesity in America is an epidemic that not only threatens the quality of American living, but American lives. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that roughly a third of Americans are overweight, with 20 percent of us qualifying as obese. During the last two decades. there has been an annual 1 percent increase in the ranks of the overweight. Worse, it is even affecting the very young. 15% of children between ages six and nineteen are overweight, and 10% of those between two and five. John Foreyt of Baylor College of Medicine warns, "This may be the first generation of children who will die before their parents."
Like the Coneheads, we are assuming mass quantities and society is prepping us for this acceptance of obesity. Seats in newer movie theaters are on average 20% wider. Everything in America is bigger and not necessarily better: Corporations (through mergers), our responsibilities at work (by downsizing our co-workers and their checks and doling out additional responsibilities to the remaining workers), even the style of clothes being worn--oversized--is another form of this subliminal seduction.
The most telling sign of this is that according to one manufacturer, shopping carts are 50% wider than twenty years ago. Why? Because they hold more food, and thus we are hypnotized to fill the cart with more food. We buy more food, we consume more food.
The reasons for American's "girth spurt" are many fold, ranging from our sedentary lifestyles and love of television, to our poor diets. German researcher John Komlos, PhD, points the finger at American impatience! He contends this all began in the seventies, when Americans stopped planning for the future, and thus spent more and saved less of their income. He argues that there is a causal relationship between Americans saving less and the frightening level of weight gain in this country.
Because we live in a society that promotes instant gratification, we in turn devalue our future, and what we would have saved for our future is instead spent on sources of instant gratification--TV's, video games and grub! Despite having not read the entire study, I believe nonetheless that this theory is way off base.
So why are Americans the only ones "beefing up", and why so rapidly? The most popular argument is that the American lifestyle is at fault. That we worship automation and sedentary living--surfing the net, excessive television viewing and constant playing of video games. Others contend we eat too much and exercise too little. But the problem goes beyond computers and caloric intake.
I place the blame at the doorstep of the food manufacturers. These persons, simply put, are mad doctors. They lace our food with chemicals--mostly Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)--which leave us addicted and trick our brains into believing that we are hungry, even if we have eaten but a few hours before.
Exacerbating the problem is our intake of "fast" and processed foods, which are laden with sugars, fats, and trans-fatty acids. Another reason is that we live in the age of "super-sized" meals.
At some restaurants you can Super-size your meal for 49 cents more, meaning you get a larger order of fries and a soft drink you can drown in. Some restaurants have value priced menus ($1.29 or less) offering foods that are laden with artery-clogging, belly busting fat. Carl's Jr. alone has enough burgers on its menu that would make a pothead salivate just thinking about them. Snack foods are relatively inexpensive and are combining flavors to make them more appealing. Vending machines dispensing foods high in fat and low in nutritional value are placed on intermediate and high school campuses across America. Last night I even heard someone on a talk show make a reference to a hot link dipped in, of all things, chocolate.
Beatrice Lorge Rogers, professor of economics and food policy at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy contends, ""Portion sizes have increased dramatically since the 1950s." She cites Pepsi Cola's jingle from that day: "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, 12 full ounces, that's a lot."
Then she elaborates: "(12-ounces) is not a lot any more. For decades, 12 ounces (itself a move up from earlier 6.5- and 10-ounce bottles) was the standard serving size for soft drinks. But since the 1970s, soft drink bottles have grown to 20 and 24 ounces; today, even one-liter (33.8 ounce) bottles are marketed as 'single servings'."
In obesity studies using mice, the test subjects are first artificially fattened. The chemical usually injected into these mice is MSG, which triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing mice to become obese. This same principal is being used on humans, for MSG. is in many of the processed foods we eat. The labels might read, "Does not contain MSG", but it's there, and usually under other names: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, or hydrolyzed oat flour. MSG, or one of it's many polysyllabic names appears on the menus of every fast food restaurant.
The food industry admits that MSG is added to food for the addictive effect it has on the human body, and the fact it makes people eat more. It especially makes people eat more than they would if MSG wasn't added. . MSG itself has been compared to another addictive additive--NICOTINE. Because Americans have a lot of expendable cash and pardon the pun, the food industry wants their cut. This strategy is aimed primarily at people who are overweight, for what do overweight people do more of? They EAT!
Making matters worse, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a Bill called "The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act", designed to shield the food manufacturers from tobacco industry type lawsuits. Much like their cigarette selling brethren, food manufacturers also peddle a product known to cause ill health and death. It is no longer necessary to ask what we can do for our government, but rather, what is our government doing TO us?
Sadly, fewer people are eating vegetables and when they do, they are usually boiled and they don't serve them often enough. Fruit is expensive and no longer a staple of school, or brown bag lunches Go to the grocery store and you can buy five-pound tubes of ground beef for under ten dollars. The beef however, is 22% fat. The traditional condiments of catsup and mustard are being replaced with mayonnaise, sour cream, guacamole, a variety of cream cheeses, butter and exotic sauces. Food is fried, laid to the side and designed to make you wide.
And we can forget about movie theaters offering healthy fare. The most "nutritional" offerings on their menu are diet sodas and unbuttered popcorn at a price sure to send you into cardiac arrest.
Yes, Americans are packing on the pounds and it's all by design. Most people who diet regain an equal or greater amount of weight within a year. Irregularity is a bigger problem than most of us care to admit--doctors included.
It is time for us to get real about physical fitness. We need to make Physical Education a requirement for at least the first two years of high school, even if it means creating modified programs for obese students. We should also begin teaching nutrition in grade school. At least, we should have instruction that advises children about the ills of excessive snacking. I know it would be hard to follow-up on this at home, as some poor nutritional habits are cultural and generational. We need to rid schools of vending machines that do nothing but fatten children and the wallets of unscrupulous distributors. Most important, parents need to be educated so that they can lead by example.
In California Physical Education classes are no longer required, but is an elective course. Kids are checking out of P.E. classes faster than a gym teacher can yell, "Gimme twenty!" These same children are waddling home as fast as their flabby legs can carry them, plopping onto the sofa and playing video games. At their side, a couple of Hostess pies.