|Obesity—the Next Epidemic|
by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President & CEO, NCH Healthcare System
February 1, 2007 - We are the fattest nation in the history of civilization! – according to Time Magazine writer Elizabeth Gleick’s “Land of the Fat”, as referenced in Eric Schlosser’s critically-acclaimed ”Fast Food Nation.” More than half of all American adults and about one-quarter of American children are classified as obese or overweight. “We’ve got the fattest, least fit generation of kids ever” says a prominent University of Colorado nutritionist. We eat more and move less. Children born today may have a shorter life span because of obesity-causing diabetes, and may even predecease their parents.
What can – and
should – we be doing about these alarming facts? Dieting is difficult for a variety of reasons. The human body has been cultivated over millenniums to gain or maintain weight. Having an extra layer of fat was protective because the internal storage of food would sustain someone over an illness or famine. Corpulent body images were considered attractive, as evidenced by many paintings from the Renaissance Period. When we diet now, the body shifts metabolism to maintain weight, thereby negating the caloric restriction. Exercise with modest dieting is probably the answer but this requires long term diligence. How many of us have made New Year’s resolutions this year to exercise and diet? How many have gotten off to a good start, only to have been seduced by the bounty of food presented daily, and the multitude of activities, other than exercise, in which to engage?
Prior to the current century food was not plentiful. Foraging, cultivating, storing, and preparing food was almost a full time job, requiring a huge consumption of energy. These activities burned up calories by keeping people active. Now, one only needs to drive through a fast food outlet to pick up a super-sized fries, containing an almost unbelievable 540 calories and 25 grams of fat! No exercise is involved and the finger food is easy to eat while driving. This salty creation of the last century creates a thirst for the perfect complement – “liquid candy” – soft drinks, the consumption of which has more than quadrupled in America over the past forty years. Even the serving size has quadrupled from the typical eight-ounce soda of the 1950s to 32 ounces today at most convenience stores. The cost of the fluids is so cheap that bigger portion sizes were used to grow market share. A large Coke has 310 calories and would require about a three mile walk or run to burn up.
Long term, we need to change both our eating and exercise habits. Spending time on ourselves makes the most sense if we want to enjoy a long life. Daily exercise, educating our youngsters early to develop a taste for wholesome foods, disciplining ourselves to be smart with portion size and choice, and not bowing to marketing pressures would combine to develop a healthier nation. We already deify thin people to the point of creating body dysmorphic syndrome, the dissatisfaction with one’s own body image.
We know what to do. We have the available tools to make changes, i.e. wellness centers, nutrition programs, but we need the long-term discipline and commitment to stay the course of healthy eating with regular exercise.
Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.