Did you see the 2008 Disney Pixar movie Wall-e? Most people remember the post-apocalyptic story theme in which no one is able to live on Earth because “the human presence on this planet is not really sustainable.” It gives an almost comedic depiction of our own possible extinction. What grabs me, and bothers me the most in this tale, is the people living in the spaceship, which I remember resembling a pleasure cruise ship. The humans are large, round, Pillsbury doughboy-like people who are barely capable of moving while they float on hover devices and suck down super-sized drinks.
Today, in 2013, too many of us are the humans from Wall-e. That’s the U.S., us! The epidemic is so terrible that last week the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates declared obesity a disease. Their hope is that physicians will now discuss what many are referring to as “the elephant in the room”. But the arsenal for discussion is incomplete. Many physicians receive little training related to nutrition counseling.
David Katz, MD, MPH wrote in his blog last week after the AMA announcement that the medicalization of obesity is concerned primarily about cost. It is the medical inaction of yet another social problem that our culture would best treat by just eating less.
Why can’t so many people get a handle on self-discipline, self-control? It takes much, much more than mere willpower. There are social forces involved in the form of “what I deserve” right now. In fact, a food commercial on television just showed me how much better I will feel when I eat that quarter pound of beef with a jumbo size soda. Seth Godin’s declared yesterday in his e-blog that “we’ve decided that consumers ought to have the right to be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power”.
While I am an optimist in most matters, it is very difficult to overcome the power of addiction. Most of us are addicted to food, of our own volition. What most of us must study and understand is the cause of the addiction. It’s not a poor makeup of the chemical structure of our brains, or only our sluggish metabolisms. I am learning (it’s about time!) that its the chemistry of the food we put in to our bodies.
Here’s my optimism: we can win this battle. The answer to the medicalization of obesity is in the food ingredients we devour. Ask any new mother if she would give her baby high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil if it was available in formula. Of course she wouldn’t.
Now ask yourself why it’s okay two or three years later that this same child’s diet will consist of processed foods in the guise of “healthy” foods like fruit roll-ups and lunchables. If you research the nutritional analysis of a a popular lunchables meal you will find high amounts of addicting sodium and dextrose or high fructose corn syrup among other ingredients. All because it’s convenient, easier, and cheaper than making it at home.
I recently spent two mornings at health fairs. I offered blood pressure screenings. I kid you not, 2/3 of everyone I checked had a blood pressure over the normal limits, and not just mildly. These were all seemingly healthy people you pass on the street, in the grocery store, and work with. High blood pressure is truly the silent disease. With increased sodium and sugar intake, people weigh more, our blood pressures go up and we develop diabetes.
Cause and effect. Cause: wrong diet. Effect: weight gain, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, diabetes. The end result: less quality while living, early to die. In fact, new research indicates our children will not live as long as our own projected age if diet and lifestyle factors do not improve. Many children are being hospitalized with heart disease and diabetes today because of diet and activity level.
So let’s review. The obesity epidemic is not a medical problem, it’s a social problem based on the culture of eating what we desire and crave. And what we choose to afford; a very important factor. We crave food that taste sweet, taste like “more”. There are ingredients put into foods not because they are essential to the recipe, but because they leave us wanting MORE. If we eliminate the foods that contain addicting ingredients, we may find ourselves less hungry and more satisfied after eating. The new disease “Obesity” will become less of a reality with time.
So do a little field trip to the grocery store this week just to research. This time, don’t shop. Go up and down the aisles and pick out food that appear “healthy” for you. Now look at the ingredients. What do you find?
I’ll be there in the aisles too. I’m listening, learning…let me know what you find.