Two thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese. That means when you go to the mall for every ten people you see six will be overweight or obese. Amazing! This number is growing. Soon seven out of ten people will be overweight or obese. It is now more common for adults in our society to be overweight and obese than in a healthy weight range. It’s not just adults, however. Obesity in children is also growing at alarming rates. The health consequences that these children face and are going to continue to face in their futures is a true tragedy.
Of course the obvious problem with obesity is that it causes major health problems. Obesity drastically increases one’s risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, as well as psychological illnesses such as severe depression and complete withdraw from family/society.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, stated that obesity will soon take over tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death. Harvard School of Public Health discovered that one third of all cancers are due to issues of nutrition, mostly obesity. It has also observed that obesity will soon be responsible for more cancers than smoking.
It is no exaggeration that in 100 years people will look back at this time and talk about the obesity epidemic and how it destroyed more people than any epidemic in history. Epidemics like the black plague and AIDS will pale in comparison to the devastation caused by obesity.
We know fighting fat is not simple. We know that there is no one magical diet that will work for all. If there was a magic diet or pill there would not be an epidemic. There does not exist an isolated answer (such as, a single diet, a single pill, a single exercise routine, a single self-help tape) to fighting fat, because fighting fat is such a complex problem.
Fighting fat with these methods – a single diet, a single pill, a single exercise routine, a single self-help tape, and surgery – has done two things. First it has failed to result in permanent weight loss, and second it has made a lot of people very rich.
Billions of dollars are spent by consumers each and every year in hope of finding the solution to fighting fat. Unfortunately, all that is truly being purchased is the equivalent of a Band-Aid to fix a bullet wound. They are superficial fixes that do not attack the problem at the root, and therefore offer either temporary fixes or no fix at all. These are not profound observations. All you have to do is look at the problem at hand, then look at the solutions offered and employed, and finally look at the results these solutions have provided thus far.
Let’s look at the problem at hand first. Obesity is an epidemic that will soon be responsible for more deaths every year than any other preventable cause of death. This epidemic has been growing like wildfire over the past two decades, and continues to grow with no end in sight.
Next, we will look at the three most common solutions offered and employed to fix the problem. The first one is Fad Diets. Here is a short list of fad diets you may have heard of before: cabbage diet, grapefruit diet, lazy diet, Atkins diet, 3 day diet, 7 day diet, 30 day diet, chocolate diet, fruit juice diet, low fat diet, South Beach diet, negative calorie diet, six times a day diet, one good meal diet, Hollywood diet, The Zone, Sugar Busters, Carb Addicts, Sugar Addicts, Jenny Craig, Dr. Phil, metabolism diet, protein power, glycemic index diet, fast food diet, Alien diet, etc.
The second common way offered to fix the obesity epidemic is with drugs, a.k.a. diet pills. There are two classes of drugs. They are known as the ever popular All Natural drugs, and the growing in popularity pharmaceutical manufactured drugs.
The third way offered to fix the obesity epidemic is with surgeries such as liposuction and gastric bypass.
Now let’s look at the results. We’ll start with fad diets. Fad diets usually result in an initial weight loss, followed by a cycle of frustration, loss of motivation, and weight gain. The diets plans do not include how to change behavior, therefore they fail. In order for an individual to achieve permanent weight loss they must change their ‘frame of mind’. These fad diets do not do this.
How about drugs? Let’s start with the all natural pills, drinks, powders, etc. One of the biggest money making marketing tactics over the past 10 years has been to attach the words “All Natural” to everything. For some crazy reason people think that just because something is from nature that it is, not only not harmful, but good for you. In addition, for this marketing technique to be really effective it must attack everything else as being a harmful chemical. You hear this all the time being stated as, Don’t put those chemicals into your body, instead use this all natural substance. The whole thing is not based on any truth and potentially very dangerous.
First of all, everything is a chemical. Have you every tried dihydrogen oxide? Dihydrogen oxide sounds like a pretty serious chemical doesn’t it. Well its common name is water. Water is made when 2 hydrogen atoms are chemically bonded to an oxygen atom – H2O. Life cannot exist without water. However, if you drink too much water you will die from water toxicity. Of course water can be toxic. Anything can be toxic, and everything is a chemical.
Would you eat arsenic, plutonium, mercury, or lead? Why not, they are all natural. Each one is a fundamental element found in nature. If you’re really interested in getting some arsenic you can find it in apple seeds. Do you know how many deadly poisons are produced in nature by plants alone? Many of your backyards are full of them.
The bottom line is that it is insane and very dangerous to think something is good for you and not harmful just because it can be found naturally. Do not let the All Natural marketing tactic ever persuade you again! You know what I say about the All Natural diet pills and all the other All Natural marketing that is promoted by the powerful multi-billion dollar health industry – caveat emptor which means buyer beware.
The truth is that the mechanism of most of the diet pills is that they contain some stimulant, most often a form of caffeine. For example, guarana is a very popular ingredient in many diet aids. Guarana is a climbing plant common to Brazil that produces a fruit that has about three times the amount of caffeine as typical coffee beans. The bottom line is that guarana is all natura’ and it contains the stimulant caffeine. There are numerous names for caffeine. When found in guarana its called guaranine. When it’s found in the yerba mate plant it’s called mateine, and in common tea leaves the caffeine is called theine. They are all synonyms for the same chemical compound. All of these different names allow marketers to hide the fact that their products just contain a bunch of caffeine or caffeine metabolites.
Overall, stimulants do increase your metabolism which does result in burning more calories. Stimulants also raise your blood pressure, irritate your nervous system, cause your heart to work harder, and stress your cardiovascular system. In addition, over time, your body grows a tolerance to the stimulant and the only way to get the same effects is to increase the amount taken. As you can imagine, this can become very dangerous. Oh by the way, there is another popular plant leaf that contains an all natural stimulant that increases your metabolism and helps burn calories. It’s known as cocaine. Are you getting my point?
Are the pharmaceutical manufactured diet pills any better? Since weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry, everyone wants to be involved. Big pharmaceutical companies are no different. They have big budgets earmarked for weight loss research and development. Their goal is to find a chemical that can be taken by overweight and obese individuals that will result in weight loss.
The process to find a chemical such as this begins with research on lab animals, such as rats. If they find a chemical that shows positive results in the animals without causing evident harm, they move to the next phase which is human trials. Initially, the chemical will be tested on small groups of volunteers, or paid participants. If these early experiments show promise, then the studies become larger. If over time and over numerous studies, the chemical is shown to be effective – statistically – and not harmful – within reason – then the chemical will be deemed safe and effective for use by the general population. It will subsequently be marketed, prescribed, and sold.
This all sounds reasonable, but here is why this hasn’t led to solving the obesity epidemic. The studies are limited to a relatively small sample of the population. Just because there was positive results and seemingly no harmful side effects to this relatively small segment of the population does not mean it is going to be safe and effective for the population at large. Everyone is physiologically and genetically different. There are too many differences between people in the general population for one drug to be safe and effective for everyone.
Have you ever heard of Fen-Phen? Fen-Phen is a combination treatment of two drugs Fenfluramine and Dexfenfluramine that was designed and touted as an effective and safe weight loss medicine. Well it wasn’t long before physiological difference among the population popped up, and the FDA was bombarded with reports of Fen-Phen causing heart valve disease. The final result, Fen-Phen was taken off the market, big law suits ensued, people were physically damaged, and obesity is still an epidemic.
The third unsuccessful attempt at curing the obesity epidemic is through surgeries, such as liposuction and gastric bypass. Liposuction is a surgery where fat is sucked out from where it accumulates under the skin. This sounds pretty cool except for the fact that it is not a permanent solution. As soon as the individual begins to take in more energy than is being used their body very efficiently begins to make brand new fat cells to store the excess energy. In other words, this ‘solution’ ain’t going to last long if the eating behavior that got them to this point in the place is resumed after the surgery. Liposuction is merely a temporary solution.
Gastric Bypass is an extreme surgery that basically removes and re-routes portions of your digestive tract to physically limit the amount of food that can be consumed and absorbed. This surgery is extreme, painful, and very dangerous, as numerous people have died from the surgery itself. If the surgery is successful, the individual does usually lose weight. They lose weight because they are physically limited to what they can eat. If they overeat, which often means more than a few tablespoons of food at a time, they will vomit it up.
One problem that arises is that it is difficult to get proper nutrient absorption. In addition, what happens is that, through force feeding, the digestive tract grows to accommodate larger and larger amounts of food. Before not too long these individuals can eat as much as they had in the past, which translates into gaining all the weight back. Gastric bypass, by itself, is not a permanent solution.
What do all these ‘Solutions’ have in common? They are all a quick fix, they require very little effort on the part of the person attempting to lose weight, someone else is making money, and they are not effective in producing permanent weight loss.
In all fairness, a solution to any problem that is a quick fix and requires little effort is never going to be a permanent solution. Once again, there really is nothing profound being observed here.
What is being done by the Government and Schools? Never in the history of human existence has the rate of obesity increased more than it has over just the past two decades. Of course, the obvious question is – Why? Well, the correct answer is that there is no single reason. I’d like to point out some of the major causes.
In the September 2007 edition of Scientific American, NYU professor Marion Nestle pointed to a political cause of obesity. She noted that in 1980 the Reagan administration’s deregulation of industry freed up agricultural production. This encouraged farmers to grow more food. The calories available per capita in the U.S. increased from 3,200 a day in 1980 to 3,900 a day two decades later. That is a difference of 700 calories available in the U.S. food supply per person per day.
Let’s put this in perspective. With everything else staying constant, if you eat 500 less calories per day, you will lose one pound of fat every week. Based on this, if you consumed 700 extra calories per day for a year you would gain 73 pounds. Now most people don’t gain this much weight in a year because there are a lot of other variables that must be included, but you get the idea of the significance this political move had on the obesity epidemic.
This led to one of the most significant causes of obesity – increased portion size! Professor Nestle further exposed the following: The early 1980’s also marked the advent of the shareholder value movement on Wall Street. Stockholder demands for higher short-term returns on investments forced food companies to expand sales in a marketplace that already contained excessive calories. Food companies responded by seeking new sales and marketing opportunities. They encouraged formerly shunned practices that eventually changed social norms, such as frequent between-meal snacking, eating in book and clothing stores, and serving larger portions.
There is so much food available that food establishments, such as restaurants, use huge portion sizes as a marketing tool. We have grown conditioned and accustomed to these enormous portions of food. The bottom line is that these portions are simply too much. It’s sadly ironic that there are people literally starving around the world and yet truth be told there is a surplus of food. The problem of starvation around the world is not sufficient food production. The problem is food distribution. It’s an economic and logistics problem.
Since we’re on the government, let’s talk about the Food Guide Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid, developed in 1991, was the government’s underhanded attempt to educate people on how to eat a balanced and healthy diet. The branch of government responsible for producing the Food Guide Pyramid is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). First of all, don’t you think that there is a more qualified branch of the government to determine what a healthy diet constitutes – like a medical or health branch? You know, a branch that actually has individuals highly qualified to talk about medical and health issues. When I want to know how to plant corn I’ll call the Department of Agriculture, not when I want to know what diet will keep me healthy.
Walter Willett, chairperson of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, states that the government’s pyramid is built on “shaky scientific ground and that it is tremendously flawed”. Dr. Willett is basing his response on the very best science and controlled studies we have available today. And when he was asked about the government’s food pyramid stance on fats, protein, dairy, and carbohydrates, Willett said none of this is accurate, and the pyramid is so out of sync with scientific evidence that it almost has to be totally dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.
Why would the Department of Agriculture do this? If you study the Food Guide Pyramid, you would see that it recommends that individuals, by far, get the majority of their daily calories from agricultural products such as rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes. Yes, it is a self serving guide that benefits lobbying groups such as the U.S. Potato Board and other farming interest groups. This has nothing to do with a conspiracy theory, but everything to do with simply lining pockets and serving political agendas. Sad, but true.
In 2005, the government released a new version of the pyramid called My Pyramid. It’s just more ambiguous, and therefore is less able to be directly attacked. All you have to know about the new pyramid is that it is still put out by the Department of Agriculture.
Are our schools doing a better job? Let’s start with the basics – school lunches. Read the following guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding school lunches. Then you can be the judge of whose best interests are in mind. I don’t think you will conclude that it is our children’s best interest.
This is a direct quote from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and donated commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements. In addition to cash reimbursements, schools are entitled by law to receive commodity foods, called “entitlement” foods. Schools can also get “bonus” commodities as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in after school educational or enrichment programs. U.S. Department of Agriculture
Another inexcusable act being committed by schools is the strategic placement and availability of vending machines. These vending machines are filled with soda, candy, caffeine and sugar laden energy drinks, chips, and cupcakes. Food and vending companies bid to have their machines placed in the cafeteria, halls, and even the gym. The companies get money, the school gets money, and the kids get overweight and unhealthy.
Perhaps the most sinful act of all, however, is the reduction / elimination of physical activity in the curriculum. Gym class and recess are disappearing. Child obesity, diabetes in children, hypertension in children, and restlessness in children are all increasing. You don’t have to have a medical background to see the connection here. It’s more of just observing and having common sense.
As a college professor who teaches freshman and sophomores, I see first hand the level at which our students are prepared after they leave high school. I’m not going to discuss math and writing skills, but I am going to point out the lack of real world preparation that these students have. Bottom line is that our secondary education system is dropping the ball when is comes to real world preparation. This includes things like: writing a resume and interviewing for a job, understanding different types of mortgages and other basic information when buying a home, understanding contracts such as lease agreements, understanding credit cards, bank loans, car loans, and credit scores, understanding how to leverage and invest money; stocks and real estate, understanding the importance of basic health maintenance such as regular dental and doctor visits, regular self breast and testicular exams, understanding the basics of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, understanding the real health issues associated with obesity, and understanding how to read food labels and serving size.
This list could go on and on. From the above list I can guarantee you that if properly educated the following tragedies would have been limited: U.S. Foreclosure Explosion of 2008, massive credit card debt, and of course the Obesity Epidemic of the 21 century.
H.G. Wells said that human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. I hate to say it but I think our education system is losing. We need change! If we are going to conquer this epidemic, we need to start doing things differently. We cannot attack this problem as we have been, because it obviously is just not working.