The most threatening epidemic facing Americans today is not a deadly virus, it is obesity and the resulting often deadly diseases it can cause, such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. In fact, Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed routinely in teens and young adults where it used to be a disease of later years.
Over 60% of Americans are overweight with about 20% of the population considered obese. While adult obesity is a major problem, the alarming increase of overweight children has tripled, from 5% to 16% between 1963 and 2002 according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which charts the most recent trends for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here is the kicker, in an article published March 17, 2005 in the New England Journal of Medicine, University of Chicago researchers contend that life expectancy for Americans could drop by two to five years in the next half century if the current trend continues. Unlike previous studies, their calculations were not based on past mortality trends. Instead they used data on obesity rates and previously published studies on which factors contribute to obesity shortening lifespan.
What is going on? According to a study done by the School of Epidemiology and Public Health and Nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley, up to one third of the American diet consists of empty calories from chips, soda, alcoholic beverages, sugary desserts, and snacks. To add insult to injury, fruit and vegetable consumption adds up to less than 10% of the American diet with statistics even lower for our kids, leaving us with a nation of overfed undernourished people with toddlers quickly joining the club. It is almost as though obesity has simply become a common condition of being American. It is no surprise then that America is the fattest nation on the planet.
What can we do? Change has to start at home. Families need to get away from prepackaged over processed foods and the addiction to fast food convenience and get back to the basics of preparing healthy meals at home. In addition, schools need to become health promotion advocates by offering healthier choices, replacing vending machine selections with healthier options and promoting physical activity. Health and nutrition education is imperative for these changes to become viable. Transformation will not happen over night, but small consistent changes can add up to big results.
What will the outcome be if we do not change? According to statistical history and the trend escalating at the current rate, we could become a nation of almost exclusively overweight people in the next half century. The negative chain reaction and consequences that this will cause could very likely leave us so weak and sick we can not recover. The US is already groaning under the weight of providing social security and Medicare benefits to an aging population. How can we possibly hope to take care of an ailing nation that has become sick before it's time due to the resulting diseases caused by obesity? This is not a pretty outlook but it is a serious problem that needs our attention and we need to take action, not tomorrow, not next week, but today.