The issue of obesity in the United States has grown right along with our expanded waistlines. Statistics say that now two-thirds of Americans are at least overweight, with many of us qualifying as obese. The medical definition of obesity is measured as weighing more than 20 percent above the weight prescribed for a person’s height, age and body type. Persons who weigh 100 pounds above that designation are considered morbidly obese.
At the same time the American Medical Association reports that the problem of eating disorders is not limited to young teenage girls. Eating disorders now affect grammar school aged children – both boys and girls – as well as 45 to 65 year old adults in this country. Somewhere close to 11 million people in the U.S. are living with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Hollywood’s preoccupation with rail-thin beauty does not help the situation. So the country is faced with a conundrum – how to fight a serious weight problem without pushing people toward a dangerous eating disorder.
Both extremes of eating disorders and obesity have seen significant increases over the past two decades. Since it is unlikely that there have been drastic genetic changes in the time frame, one is left to wonder what other factors may be influencing our nation’s shift in eating and weight attitudes. Many feel that while body shape and weight may be heritable traits, lifestyle changes are also largely to blame.
Perhaps the greatest shifts have occurred in our country’s mode of living. Very few families or individuals schedule sit-down meals around the table on a daily basis. Meals prepared at home from scratch and with fresh ingredients are rare, though we all know they are the most nutritious. Instead, many meals are consumed in the car, at the desk or on the go once received from the neighborhood drive-through. Some reports say that as much as one half of the family food allowance in America is spent on meals consumed outside the home.
The preponderance of snack foods is another contributor to weight gain. Empty calorie snacks loaded with sugar and salt occupy entire aisles at the supermarket. Add that to our more sedentary habits and there is a recipe for weight gain. Obesity is a matter of more calories consumed than expended. Eating higher calorie food, more often while not engaging in vigorous exercise has been a significant cultural change.
The fight against obesity is warranted but, at the same time, we need to avoid over-reaching and pushing people toward dangerously restrictive eating. Moderation is the true goal, and one that is difficult to achieve. It has been correctly pointed out that the culture which once embraced cigarette smoking has changed. Eating everywhere and Hollywood’s cult of the waif-thin can also get turned around.