The Obesity Apocalypse is Nearing

November 25, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

obesityToday is the last article for this series on obesity, and the last article for this week -  Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it I am taking a few day hiatus.

And what better time than Thanksgiving to talk about the dangers of eating too much food and the wrong types of food?

Because as a nation, here in the U.S., statistics show that obesity is rapidly reaching epidemic proportions.  Already the U.S. is the most obese nation on the planet.

I’ve talked about all the different causes of obesity – diet, sugar/high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, cars and stress – but no matter how you cut the mustard, the truth is that if we continue the path we’re on, there is something ugly looming on the horizon.

And that is the obesity apocalypse.

2012-Doomsday1Forget 2012 and the Mayan Long Count calendar.  That just makes for a thriller of a Hollywood movie.

The real apocalypse will occur in 2030. That’s the year, according to a study that came out in the August 2008 edition of the medical journal Obesity, that nearly every American will be overweight or obese.

The study, led by Dr. Youfa Wang of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, says that if current overweight and obesity trends continue, 86 percent of Americans could be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

And even more troubling, the authors note, is the fact that “by 2048, all American adults would become overweight or obese.”

wall-eShades of the Pixar film Wall-E.  In that film, 700 years in the future, the inhabitants of earth are forced to evacuate the planet, because due to mass consumerism the entire planet is covered with trash. The people of earth are now living in space on starliners, and are grossly obese and no longer able to walk. They have to rely on motorized hovercrafts to get them around.

Dr. Wang of John Hopkins also said that the increase in metabolic disease and other weight-related conditions could have a catastrophic toll on public health — and on the public pocket. If these predictions come to bear, Wang and his colleagues estimate that the additional overweight and obesity burden could add up to an extra $860 billion to $956 billion per year in health expenditures to treat these conditions.

All told, this would mean that $1 in every $6 spent on health care would be spent as a result of the overweight and obesity.

printing_money_for_aigThe reality is that if those dollar figures quoted above are spent on the health demands of obesity, it will bankrupt this nation. We can reform health care until we’re blue in the face, we can create a single payer system that is compassionate, caring and exceeds expectations, but if we have that level of burden to pay on health care, the only way to rescue the U.S. economy will be if every person in the country is allowed to have a printing press in their home in order to print up money.

Obviously, we are in dire need of reversing course, and doing it soon…or else.

Dr. David Katz, co-founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center says, “We are terribly, ominously off-course. To close the gap, we need to fix everything that’s broken — from neighborhoods without sidewalks, to the high price of produce, to food marketing to children, to misleading health claims on food packages, to school days devoid of physical activity and school cafeterias devoid of healthful offerings. The list goes on and on.”

Others state that the path to reversing course lie in individuals taking responsibility for diet and lifestyle habits. Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and a staunch supporter of a vegetarian diet, says dietary modification could be a crucial step in solving the problem.

“U.S. eating habits are nowhere near where they should be,” he says. “The average American eats 50 pounds more meat and 20 pounds more cheese per year, compared to the 1960s. … I would strongly encourage Americans to adopt more vegetarian meals.”

Obesity.2007Soon we will be at a crossroads. On one path is the road to a Low Density Lifestyle, while the other is the trail to a High Density Lifestyle.

The choice is ours.

And so with that, I leave you to have a happy Thanksgiving.  I wish you well, and I hope you remember all I’ve written on this important subject.

Stress: A Major Cause of Obesity

November 24, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, Stress, obesity

Brum_hit_by_obesity_epidemic_399933639I’ve been writing on the theme of obesity for the last few weeks, and will wrap this series up tomorrow. (It’s a short week, what with the Thanksgiving holiday, and so tomorrow’s article will be the last for this week.)

I’ve written about many causes of obesity – diet, chemicals in foods, sugar/high fructose corn syrup, cars.

Another cause of obesity, and a major cause at that, is stress.

Stress-ConfusionChokeStress is a major cause of living a High Density Lifestyle, and a major cause of obesity – that’s why I’ve said throughout this series that being obese can get you trapped in the treadmill of a High Density Lifestyle.

What is it about stress that leads to obesity?

There’s two main reasons: behavioral and physiological.

Behaviorally, stressed-out people will often eat even when they’re not hungry – this is known as stress eating or emotional eating, and the food choices made are usually not the wisest.

Physiologically, there’s a few factors that lead to obesity. One factor is cortisol and cortisol-induced insulin.

When faced with a stressful situation, the body triggers the stress response, the fight-or-flight response. This leads to the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones along with an increase of blood pressure, breathing and heart rate.

The natural stress response is usually short-term and self-regulating. When the threat is gone, the body returns to normal. As cortisol and adrenaline levels drop, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure, as well as energy levels return to their baseline levels. Other systems inhibited by the stress response return to their regular activities.

stress-copyThe natural stress response goes awry when stress is constant and excessive. In today’s society, most people are inundated with overwhelming stress. For those constantly dealing with excessive and chronic stress, the body’s fight-or-flight response is constantly on. In turn, the resulting stress hormones released are chronically high.

Chronically high levels of cortisol plays a big role in the development of obesity.

Cortisol helps the body handle stress, so when stress goes up, cortisol also goes up. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism during stressful situations. This leads to increased blood sugar levels required for fast energy. In turn, this stimulates insulin release which can lead to an increase in appetite.

When the immediate stress is over, cortisol lingers to help bring the body back into balance after stress. One of the ways it gets things back to balance is by increasing appetite to replace the carbohydrate and fat used for the flight or fight response.

The problem is that in today’s society, stress-causing situations — such as traffic jams or computer malfunctions — don’t require the body to use up a lot of energy. So, cortisol ends up causing the body to refuel after stress even when it doesn’t really need to refuel. This excess fuel or glucose is converted into fat, resulting in increased storage of fat.

computer donutWhat makes matters worse is that cortisol-induced high levels of insulin also leads to increased production and storage of fat. This means that exposure to chronically high levels of cortisol and cortisol-induced insulin are major main reasons why stress can lead to increase in body fat and obesity.

Another physiological reason that was found recently for why stress leads to obesity is a molecule that the body releases when stressed called NPY (neuropeptide Y). NPY appears to unlock certain receptors in fat cells, causing them to grow in both size and number.

NPY was discovered by researchers during an experiment in which stressed and unstressed mice were fed either a standard diet or a high-fat, high-sugar, “comfort food” diet.

As expected, the mice on the high-fat, high-sugar diet gained fat while those on the standard diet did not. But researchers found the stressed mice on the high-fat, high-sugar diet developed more body fat than the unstressed mice fed the same diet.

The good news of all this is that stress-induced obesity can be overturned by the learning of simple stress management techniques.

And for that matter, diet-induced obesity can be overturned by the learning of better food habits.

So there is hope!

Cars Are Making Us Obese

November 20, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

I’ve pointed out during this series on obesity that the obesity rates are steadily increasing at alarming numbers in adults and children, and that the number one cause is the prevalence of junk foods and sugar drinks.

Now you can add another thing to the list, and it’s something that most people use on an everyday and regular basis: cars.

carsThere’s a direct correlation between the obesity rate in a nation, and the amount of driving as a primary means of transportation.

The more walking and biking a nation does, the lower its obesity rate. The more driving, the higher.

Which is why Americans are on average some 15% more obese than residents of European countries like Spain, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Only 5% of Americans regularly bike or walk as a form of transit, while over 50% of people in those countries do. And not all of this is purely from the exercise that you get by walking or biking, either.

If you live in a dense, urban, walkable city, you can consume less energy per person than any other kind of environment. It turns out that all that walking keeps you skinny too.

fat-graph

The correlation between obesity and walking, biking and public transportation in various countries

One person wrote in to the Atlantic magazine saying, “Car culture is terrible for public health. Again, I’m significantly overweight. Always trying new exercise and diet programs that never result in sustained weight loss. What has? Spent two months in London without car, relying on public transit and walking, no attempt at dieting or exercising. Weight loss: 22 lbs. Six weeks in NYC without car, relying on public transit and walking, no attempt… Weight loss: 19 lbs.”

This also means that there’s a correlation between living in suburban sprawl, or sprawling cities, and being obese, because of the amount of driving that has to be done. Researchers are finding that suburban dwellers are significantly fatter than their urban counterparts, primarily because they drive everywhere, even to the fitness club.

If you recall in the article a few days ago, I stated that Miami is the most obese city in the U.S. If you’ve ever been to Miami, you know that it is not a walk-centric city – it is one sprawling megalopolis.

The freeway sprawl also known as Los Angeles

The freeway sprawl also known as Los Angeles

Speaking of sprawling cities, L.A. is another one. Which makes the above music video, The Ride, by the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars really cool, as it’s an ode to L.A. bicycle culture.

It must have taken a lot of work to make the video, because there’s barely a car in sight in the video. Even if you don’t like the video, it’s worth watching with the sound off just for the visuals of the bikers taking over in one of the most car-centric cities in the world.

Call it a fantasy, but we need it to become a reality.

And so, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you may wonder: the automobile created suburban sprawl, bigger and fuller fridges, the proliferation of fast food restaurants and the decline in the use of bikes.

Could it be that the system is rigged to put people in cars and take them to Wal-Mart and to McDonalds for cheap, fast high-fat food?

No wonder obesity rates are sky-high! And no wonder we’re becoming a world of people stuck in a High Density Lifestyle.

Join the conversation – I invite you to join my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter!

It’s the Food, Not Lack of Exercise, Causing Teen Obesity

November 19, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

fat_children_obese_childFor the last two days I’ve been talking about obesity in children, and the fact that in the U.S. nearly one in three children and teens are overweight or obese.

I discussed in yesterday’s article that one of the key causes of this obesity epidemic is sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Many say that another big cause of obesity in younger folks is their lack of exercise.

Most American teenagers are not as active as they should be, but a lack of exercise does not seem to be to blame for the rising rates of teen obesity, according to a U.S. study.

According to a recent study published in the journal Obesity Reviews, researcher Youfa Wang of John Hopkins University said that a lack of exercise was not to blame for the rise in U.S. children and teens.

obese-televisionWang and his research team, using government survey data from 1991 and 2007 that tracked the health and lifestyle of U.S. high school students, found the amount of physical activity among U.S. teens has not in fact changed significantly over the past two decades while the population, including children, has gotten heavier.

“Although only one third of U.S. adolescents met the recommended levels of physical activity, there is no clear evidence they had become less active over the past decade while the prevalence of obesity continued to rise,” said Wang.

He said there was no evidence that teens’ exercise levels had changed appreciably at any time during the study period — even though those years saw an increase in teen obesity.

Overall they found only 35 percent of teenagers surveyed in 2007 met the current recommendations for physical activity — performing activities that gets the heart rate up at least one hour per day, five or more days out of the week.

But there was no evidence that teenagers’ exercise habits shifted significantly during the study period.

Some kids love yoga

Some kids love yoga

In 1993, for example, 66 percent of teens got enough short bursts of vigorous exercise — 20 minutes of running, biking or other heart-pumping activity at least three days per week. That figure was 64 percent in 2005.

When it came to moderate exercise which should, according to guidelines, be performed at least 30 minutes per day, on five or more days per week, only 27 percent met that goal in 1999.

That figure was unchanged in 2005.

The researchers also found a decline in teenagers’ TV time, which is interesting, because it has been widely believed that an increase in TV time is one of the causes of obesity.

In 1999, 43 percent of students spent three or more hours watching TV on school days but this figure dipped to 35 percent in 2007. Wang said these findings suggest that waning exercise levels are “not likely the major explanation of the recent increase in obesity among U.S. adolescents.”

He said other factors, like unhealthy diets, may be the driving force.

teen choiceAnd that is the truth. It’s the high consumption of junk food – sugar/high fructose corn syrup and fatty foods – that are the culprit.

Sadly, the desire for the junk foods is pretty much an addiction. Studies of the brain function of people with substance addictions has found that junk food triggers the same activity and response in the brain.

And a new study by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida found similar reactions in rats. Pleasure centers in the brains of rats fed high-fat, high-calorie food became less responsive over time – a signal that the rats were becoming addicted. The rats started to eat more and more. They even went for the junk food when they had to endure an electric shock to get it.

“Your brain reacts almost identically to that of a cocaine addict looking at cocaine,” said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, a clinical professor at Weill Cornell Medical School and former president of The Obesity Society. “And the interesting thing is that someone who is obese has even more similarity to the cocaine addict. In many ways, they can be addicted to junk food.”

And even more sadly, food companies know this and create their food products with this in mind – they want people to be addicted to their products, because then they have a customer for life, regardless of the consequences.

And the consequences are that these junk food addicts will be caught in the treadmill of a High Density Lifestyle unless they break their addiction.

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What’s Making Our Children Obese?

November 18, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

fatForLifeThere is an epidemic of childhood obesity in both the U.S. and the world, as I discussed in yesterday’s article.

I discussed some of the reasons for this, but there is one factor, and one factor alone, that is the main cause for it: sweets – sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Back in 1977, average daily consumption of fructose was about 37 grams per person per day.

Recent surveys show that it’s up to 54.7 grams, or about 10 percent of total caloric intake. And for teenagers – who consume a ton of sodas – fructose intake averages a whopping 72.8 grams, the equivalent of 18 spoonfuls of the stuff every single day.

Why should we care? It’s deadly. Fructose is one of the worst sweeteners you can possibly consume and it’s making our children obese.

Table sugar (sucrose) is made up of fructose and glucose. Studies that compare the effect of these two simple sugars (glucose and fructose) consistently show that it is the fructose part of table sugar that does the most damage, raising triglycerides and creating insulin resistance.

hi-fructose-7Yet, high-fructose corn syrup is only marginally worse than sugar (high fructose corn syrup is about 55% fructose and 45% glucose while table sugar contains equal amounts of both).

And there are a few food categories that are packed with these deadly sweeteners and heavily marketed to children.

If you recall the article I wrote about Kellogg’s promoting their obscenely sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup breakfast cereal, Cocoa Krispies, as a healthful food, you can see how difficult it is for most people to realize the dangers of sugar when they’re up against a marketing behemoth that will stop at nothing to lure you into the unhealthy lifestyle that living a High Density Lifestyle is.

Besides the breakfast cereals, another food category that is playing a major role in the obesity epidemic are high-calorie soft drinks and fruit-flavored drinks.

“Roughly 15 or 20 years ago, we had an explosion in the availability of these beverages,” says Dr. Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutritionist. “Sure, they were around two decades ago, but certainly not to the degree they are today.”

“They’re everywhere, and they come in these attractive packages that are highly marketable,” he says. “And because you don’t have to refrigerate them, they can be stuck in a backpack and consumed anytime during the day.”

Gatorade-20-oz-line-up1Few would deny the convenience associated with these products. But with this convenience comes a highly “concentrated source of calories,” Keith says. And when consumed in large amounts day in and day out, the end result is often obesity.

“Children up to age 11 need between 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day,” Keith says. “Only four of these beverages typically add up to between 400 and 600 calories, so many children are deriving up to a third or even half of their daily caloric intake from these products.”

Studies have confirmed a high correlation between heavy consumption of these drinks and obesity. Indeed, children who consume large amounts of these beverages tend to have higher body weights and higher levels of body fat.

Equally bad, the crowding out of other foods associated with over-consumption of these products is also depriving children of other vital nutrients.

obesity2_0“By consuming a third or even a half of their calories from these drinks, kids are causing the hunger mechanism in their brains to become partly quenched,” Keith says. “The result is that they’re less hungry, and with less hunger, they’re apt to eat fewer fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods.”

“They are getting the calories but very little nutritional value.”

What can be done to reverse this dangerous trend?

“You really can’t make kids eat nutritious foods without limiting the intake of these beverages, because this will only contribute to obesity,” Keith says.

Instead, he says parents first should limit their children’s intake of high-calorie drinks to only one or two a day and replace additional consumption with milk, water or pure fruit juice.

Pure fruit juice, however, should be somewhat restricted in cases where the children already are obese.

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Obesity in Children

November 17, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

fatkidwrestlerI continue with this series on obesity by discussing a topic that is alarming: obesity in children.

I’ve talked about obesity around the world and in the U.S., and how statistics show that the obesity trends continue to increase.

It’s bad enough to see the rates increase amongst adults; it’s even worse to see them increase among children.

What this means is that we’re creating future generations of people trapped in a High Density Lifestyle.

This does not bode well in many ways. It increases the health risks for these children now, and/or when they become adults. And it increases the health care costs of society in general.

In the U.S., nearly one in three children and teens are overweight or obese. In Mississippi, which is the nation’s most obese state, 44% of children and teens are overweight or obese.

obesity_4And one in four obese children in the United States has early signs of type II diabetes, which is the type of diabetes seen only in adults until recently. In fact, almost half of the children and adolescents now diagnosed with diabetes have the type II form of the disease, which is strongly linked to obesity and lack of exercise.

Things aren’t better in other countries, as I pointed out in the article on Obesity Around the World.

Even more specifically, let’s look at childhood obesity in Asia – Asians are catching up with the U.S. and Western world in their obesity statistics.

Where malaria, typhoid and malnutrition once were the major killers in Asia, millions of people are falling prey to “Western” diseases – diabetes, heart disease and strokes, all associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

Vietnamese rice farmer

Vietnamese rice farmer

This dramatic, almost abrupt change in lifestyle follows centuries in which the vast majority of Asians survived on a diet of less than 2,000 calories a day derived from food grown from the soil – particularly rice.

“The number of calories consumed by Asians, historically speaking, haven’t been that high,” says Dr. Robert Keith, a professor of nutrition at Auburn University in Alabama. “Food was sparse with very little saturated fat and was derived mostly from grains, rice and vegetables.”

By modern standards, it was a bleak lifestyle, far removed from the opulent lifestyles now commonplace in burgeoning cities throughout Japan, China, Thailand and Malaysia.

Until recently, obesity and its related problems were associated almost entirely with the West, where food was cheap, fast and fatty and physical inactivity was the norm rather than the exception.

But Asians are catching up fast. As health professionals are learning, the rising tide of affluence that has followed industrialization and urbanization throughout much of Asia has been accompanied by the same problems associated with the West – skyrocketing rates of obesity coupled with plummeting levels of physical activity.

“Like the West decades ago, Asians have prospered by producing more consumer goods and attracting tourist dollars,” Keith says. “And as a result, they now have more disposable income, and their lifestyle allows them to purchase more convenient food.”

mcdonalds in asiaIn many cases, Western food providers, particularly fast-food chains, are only happy to meet this demand.

But opulence comes with a price. More often than not, this food, while cheap, convenient and plentiful, also is loaded in saturated fat and, in most cases, sugar. As a result, in only one generation, many Asians have gone from consuming between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day to between 2,000 and 3,000 calories. And many of these calories increasingly are being derived from milk, ice cream, cookies and soft drinks.

What this has meant is that there is rising rates of obesity not only among adults but amongst Asian children and teens. Like millions of Western children, they’re developing something health experts seldom ever saw a few decades ago – adult onset diabetes.

The World Health Organization reports that obesity among Thai children, ages 5 to 12, has risen to nearly 16 percent – a 4 percent increase from only a couple of years ago.

In Japan, where the problem isn’t as serious, obesity has risen from just under 3 percent to almost 10 percent among boys and from almost 3.5 to 8 percent among girls.

fat_Chinese_kidOne of the factors for this increase in Asia is the wide availability of televisions, personal computers and video games. Like their counterparts in the United States, millions of Asian children are spending an increasing amount of time either watching television or playing computer games – and in the meantime, snacking on the wide array of readily available Western-style snacks.

Another factor associated with affluence, described by Asians as “malling,” also appears to be taking its toll. Like millions of their counterparts in the West, Asian children and teens are spending an increasing amount of their leisure time in malls, shopping and munching on fast food.

Join the conversation – I invite you to join my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter!

Obesity, Meat Free Monday, and the Empire Strikes Back

November 13, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono get a little help from their friends in announcing the launch of Meat Free Mondays

Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono get a little help from their friends in announcing the launch of Meat Free Monday

Back in September I posted an article about Meat Free Monday, the campaign that Paul McCartney is helping to spearhead, which encourages people to go meat free one day a week.

The theory behind Meat Free Monday is that eating less meat is good for the environment and that even one less day of meat eating a week can help slow climate change.

It’s also well-known that eating too much meat can be harmful to your health, and so Meat Free Monday can definitely be a boost to the health of anyone who partakes.

And it can also be something that can lower obesity rates.

With that in mind, the city of Baltimore public school system became the first district in the U.S. to adopt Meat Free Monday. On October 5, 2009 the school cafeteria workers began prepping their first vegetarian fare.

kidsThis is really such a wise thing for the school district to do, especially in the face of the rising tide of childhood obesity, and obesity in general, in the U.S.

But the Empire was immediately ready to strike back at the news.

A spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, Janet Riley, recently went on CNN and warned that students aren’t getting enough protein.

And the Animal Agriculture Alliance urged people “shocked” by the once-weekly absence of meat on school menus to write schools chief Andrés Alonso “to ensure this effort does not spread.”

Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute

Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute

“I am not suggesting that every child be forced to eat meat every day,” Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute said on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. “What I am suggesting is that children and parents should have the ability to choose what they want to eat.”

Riley also voiced concerns that children will not get enough protein. Will someone please tell her that there are lots of other sources of protein besides meat?

And, get this, Riley also didn’t like the idea of  the indoctrination that will occur: she’s concerned that it’s not the place for a school to tell children how to eat.

Riley said that by taking meat completely off of the menu one day a week, the school district was denying students the freedom of choice.  “I am not suggesting that every child be forced to eat meat every day,” said Riley.  “What I am suggesting is that children and parents should have the ability to choose what they want to eat.”

During the segment on CNN, host Lou Dobbs commented, “That’s a real political storm in the making, isn’t it?”

You can watch the CNN segment in the video at the top of this page.

Now, you may consider it a coincidence, but it wasn’t much longer after this segment aired that Dobbs announced his resignation from his show, effective immediately.

To me, it’s no coincidence. It’s obvious Lou Dobbs is quitting in order to get to the bottom of this conspiracy and find out who’s behind this treacherous plot that’s forcing our kids to not eat meat.

Episode_5_Darth_VaderI mean, God forbid, if these kids actually go a day without meat, then they may actually lower the obesity rates amongst children and in the U.S. in general. And we wouldn’t want to upset the apple cart, would we?

I mean, do we really want to invoke the wrath of the Empire, and take a risk of the Empire Striking Back?

And here’s a repeat of the video from the article in September in which Paul McCartney announces the Meat Free Monday campaign:

The Most Obese State in the U.S. – and What They’re Trying to Do About It

November 12, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

map24Over the last few days during this series on obesity, I’ve told you about obesity in the U.S. and how the rates have been increasing rapidly, and I also told you about the most obese cities in the U.S. – with Miami, Florida having the honor of being the most obese city.

Today I want to look at the most obese state in the U.S., a state that has held onto first place for the last five years. In 2008, Mississippi reported that 32.8% of their residents are obese.

So you could say that they are the leading High Density Lifestyle state.

It’s not an honor anyone wants to win, and unfortunately, as you saw in the article on Obesity in America, Mississippi has been at the forefront of obesity statistics since the CDC first began measuring the numbers in 1985.

mississippiMississippi also has the highest number of obese children, with 44% of children ages 10-17 registering in that category.

Here is what some Mississippi state public policy makers and health advocates are suggesting for the state to do to reverse the trend:

1. Address the Environment

Personal choices about diet and activity are important. But in a state with a high poverty rate, if there’s no healthy food available at affordable prices, and no place to exercise or even take a walk, that’s a problem.

“I am not here to tell you to be healthy or force you to be healthy. I’m just here to give you an opportunity for it,” Chip Johnson, mayor of Hernando, Miss., said. ” I have to put that opportunity out there, and if the people don’t take advantage of it, that’s their choice.”

Johnson says Hernando, which is located about 12 miles south of Memphis, Tenn., has a population of 15,000 people and is in Mississippi’s Delta region.

“Mississippi is the fattest state in the fattest nation in the world at the fattest time in all of history, and the Delta is the fattest area of our state. So we’re right here, smack-dab in the middle of the fattest thing going on,” Johnson says.

2. Spring for Sidewalks

Gene McGee, mayor of Ridgeland, Miss., says his town (population: 23,000) mandates sidewalks for new subdivisions. “That hopefully encourages families or individuals to walk in the subdivisions,” McGee said.

In Hernando, Mayor Johnson says grants will pay for sidewalks to be installed in the city’s poorest neighborhood, and crumbling sidewalks elsewhere have also been upgraded.

Johnson says he’s seen more people walking on the new sidewalks. “It’s like that movie — if you build it, they will come,” he says.

OBESITY STATES3. Spruce Up Parks

“I think it’s very important to encourage communities to have facilities such as multi-use trails or parks that encourage physical activity,” says McGee, noting Ridgeland’s system of multi-use trails for biking, jogging, or walking.

Johnson says in Hernando, volunteers rehabbed an overgrown football field and track at a burned-down high school, turning it into a site for youth football and soccer and a place for neighborhood residents to walk and jog.

4. Reframe Obesity

Obesity shouldn’t be thought of as a personal failure or sheer gluttony, but as a “chronic medical condition,” says Gabrial Uwaifo, MD, FACP, FACE, an endocrinologist at the University of Mississippi in Jackson, Miss. Uwaifo wants obesity to be covered by insurance, not paid for out of pocket.

Deep fried bread - a southern delicacy

Deep fried bread - a southern delicacy

5. Step Away From the Deep Fryer

Uwaifo, who moved to Mississippi two years ago from the Washington, D.C., area, says he was surprised by how Mississippians eat.

“I was amazed at how virtually everything was fried,” Uwaifo says. “I’ve seen oranges dunked in oil” as well as fried bananas and apples.

Uwaifo says these eating habits are “dangerous for your heart, and it could add up over time.”

6. Launch a Public Health Blitz

That’s something Uwaifo wants to see happen. He likens it to the antismoking public campaign.

“Just the same way we finally got people to understand that the Marlboro Man looked good but all those cigarettes wasn’t good for him and will kill him eventually. That’s the sort of public health onslaught I think needs to be put out regarding food. People need to understand that we do end up being what we eat,” Uwaifo says, cautioning that messages should be tailored to different ethnic populations and age groups.

“It has to be handled sensitively and carefully. It cannot be one-size-fits-all,” Uwaifo says.

If Mississippi really steps up to the plate by making a major commitment to tackle obesity, the state could end up being an obesity underdog. Given the high rate of obesity, even small changes could make a “measurable impact,” Uwaifo notes.

toofattoeat7. Make Healthy Food Available and Affordable

This hasn’t been as simple as putting in sidewalks. Mississippi is one of the nation’s poorest states, and as Uwaifo points out, “as long as it’s far cheaper to get high-fat, high-carbohydrate, simple starchy things, whatever public education you put out there is not going to work. People finally have to work with what is in their pocket.”

Johnson points to a new farmer’s market — all with local food — on the Hernando town square on Saturday mornings that is proving popular. It’s within walking distance of poor neighborhoods and also draws people from up to 60 miles away, says Johnson, adding that the city’s poorest neighborhood also has a new community garden.

But he’s not happy with the choices at local stores in certain neighborhoods.

“We still don’t have healthy foods accessible in our lower-income neighborhoods,” Johnson says.

“People who don’t have a car and who walk to the corner market for their meals, well, their only options are the fried chicken and the fried pizza sticks and all that stuff sitting there in the counter. When you go in these corner stores, there’s no fresh vegetables. There may be a brown banana laying there, that’s the best you can hope for. So we’re trying to encourage that, and that part has not happened here yet,” Johnson says.

8. Walk the Walk

“Setting an example for people is very important,” says McGee, who is an avid cyclist, covering 100-150 miles per week on his bike. But he wasn’t always like that.

“When I started cycling, I was probably 35 pounds over what I am right now,” he says. Taking up cycling “helped me to lose weight, and it also taught me that to exercise, I’ve also got to eat right, and so I’ve learned to turn down those foods that aren’t good for you.”

The Most Obese Cities in the U.S.

November 11, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

map24In yesterday’s article, I continued with this series on obesity by discussing obesity in the U.S. I showed maps of the U.S. that charted out obesity rates across the country from 1985-2008, and the results were startling.

Now let’s examine it even more closely by looking at the most obese cities in the U.S. This statistic is put together by Men’s Health magazine, which has been doing the survey for the last 11 years.

Men’s Health magazine does their analysis by working with a research firm to examine the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas and grade them in more than a dozen categories, including the percentage of overweight citizens and the number of fitness centers and sports stores.

miami_fat_city_090114_mnAccording to their findings, Miami, Florida is the nation’s unfittest and most obese city.

That may be hard to believe, since when you think of Miami, you think of hard bodies working on their tan in South Beach.

Yet Miami earned its dubious distinction because of its large number of overweight people, a high rate of TV viewing among residents, long commutes and poor air quality. The city has almost three times as many fast-food restaurants as the average city. And participation is low in outdoor activities such as biking, running and fitness walking.

Claudia Gonzalez, a registered dietitian in Miami, says the city doesn’t invite people to walk and exercise because of all the highways. “If you walk in some areas, people look at you like you are strange – like, ‘Why are you walking when everyone else is driving?’ ”

So what’s up with Miami? Here’s a number of reasons why they are numero uno:

**Florida state law limits or prohibits obesity-related lawsuits against food manufacturers and restaurants.

At the beach in Miami

At the beach in Miami

**The local commute is much more oppressive than in most cities – 50 percent more oppressive than average, leaving less time to exercise and prepare healthy meals. Commuter stress may also raise levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to weight gain and other health problems.

**According to Nielsen Media Research, TV viewers in the Miami television market spend 20 percent more time in front of the tube than average among cities.

**Air quality here is among the most unhealthful of any city, according to EPA air quality standards. Unhealthy air makes outdoor exercise hazardous.

**Miami’s park acreage per capita is 80 percent lower than average. Research has found a connection between access to parks and green space and reduced obesity rates.

**Fast food, widely implicated as a contributor to obesity, is more common in Miami than most places. In a per capita comparison there are 31 percent more fast-food joints here than average.

**Miami residents participate in sports much less than average – 20 percent less than average.

**Although other states participate in a CDC-sponsored program to reduce obesity and other chronic diseases, Florida doesn’t.

**Miami has 74 percent more pizza places per capita than the average among cities.

**Despite wide availability of local running and biking trails, Miami residents are 35 percent less likely than average to jog or cycle.

Even little Miamians like their ice cream

Even little Miamians like their ice cream

**Ice cream shops are 141 percent more popular in Miami than average.

**Just 7 percent of Miami residents play golf. That’s 32 percent less than average.

**Miami residents are 67 percent less likely than average to go hiking.

**Only about 2 percent of Miami residents do Pilates.

**Residents of Miami are 84 percent less likely than average to use aerobic rider machines.

**Skateboarding is 63 percent less popular here than average.

Here, according to Men’s Health, are the 24 other cities that round out the top 25 most obese cities in the U.S.

2. Oklahoma City, OK
3. San Antonio, TX
4. Las Vegas, NV
5. New York, NY
6. Houston, TX
7. El Paso, TX
8. Jacksonville, FL
9. Charlotte, NC
10. Louisville-Jefferson, KY
11. Memphis, TN
12. Detroit, MI
13. Chicago, IL
14. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
15. San Jose, CA
16. Tulsa, OK
17. Baltimore, MD
18. Columbus, OH
19. Raleigh, NC
20. Philadelphia, PA
21. L.A.-Long Beach, CA
22. Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
23. Indianapolis, IN
24. San Diego, CA
25. Kansas City, MO

Obesity in America

November 10, 2009 by Michael Wayne  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, obesity

Continuing on with this series on obesity, today I want to talk about obesity in the U.S., and what the trends tell us.

The last article talked about obesity around the world; now I will look at the country that has the dubious distinction of leading the world in obesity, the U.S.

And as I said in the first article in this series on obesity, being obese is a sure-fire path to living a High Density Lifestyle - it plays havoc on your health, and it stresses your body to no end.

So let’s look at the trends, from 1985 – 2008, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control:

map1In 1985, a few states registered, 10-14% of the population as being obese, and other states registered less than 10% of the population as being obese.

As you can see, there was no data for many states in 1985, presumably because there wasn’t a large population base of obese people, so it wasn’t seen as something to have to keep tabs of.

map7

In 1991, a few states reported less than 10% of the population as being obese, while the majority reported 10-14% obesity. Four states, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi reported 15-19% of the population as being obese.

map14

In 1998, things had progressed. Now there were no states reporting less than 10% obesity. The best numbers that a minority of states had were 10-14% obesity. Many states were now reporting 15-19% obesity, and a smattering of states were now registering 20-24% obesity rates.

map19A few years later, in 2003, numbers had increased again. Now no states were reporting 10-14% obesity rates. Only a few states had 15-19% obesity statistics, with the great majority at 20-24% obesity. A few states, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Indiana were now reporting 25-29% obesity numbers.

map24And now, the latest trends in 2008 show that numbers continue to increase. Only one state, Colorado, has obesity rates at 15-19%, most states are at 25-29%, and a few states are at 30% of the population being obese.

Below are the 2008 rates laid out in table format:

2008 State Obesity Rates
State % State % State % State %
Alabama 31.4 Illinois 26.4 Montana 23.9 Rhode Island 21.5
Alaska 26.1 Indiana 26.3 Nebraska 26.6 South Carolina 30.1
Arizona 24.8 Iowa 26.0 Nevada 25.0 South Dakota 27.5
Arkansas 28.7 Kansas 27.4 New Hampshire 24.0 Tennessee 30.6
California 23.7 Kentucky 29.8 New Jersey 22.9 Texas 28.3
Colorado 18.5 Louisiana 28.3 New Mexico 25.2 Utah 22.5
Connecticut 21.0 Maine 25.2 New York 24.4 Vermont 22.7
Delaware 27.0 Maryland 26.0 North Carolina 29.0 Virginia 25.0
Washington DC 21.8 Massachusetts 20.9 North Dakota 27.1 Washington 25.4
Florida 24.4 Michigan 28.9 Ohio 28.7 West Virginia 31.2
Georgia 27.3 Minnesota 24.3 Oklahoma 30.3 Wisconsin 25.4
Hawaii 22.6 Mississippi 32.8 Oregon 24.2 Wyoming 24.6
Idaho 24.5 Missouri 28.5 Pennsylvania 27.7

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