National and Global Health Problem
What has changed?
I find that a very high percentage of my own patients are working more than ever, have less free time, have less time to exercise, and rely to a greater and greater extent on fast food and restaurant food options. This is a real recipe for disaster with weight gain and a high risk of developing obesity. Today it might be said that we are living in an area of a “perfect storm” with respect to weight gain and obesity.
• Food manufacturers and restaurants have succeeded in making meals more delicious than ever, but also higher in calories and carbohydrates.
• Advertisers tempt us at every turn with the sights, sounds and smells of succulent offerings.
• Schools depend on fast food and soft drink purveyors to fund their programs.
• Most parents work and nobody has much time to prepare healthy meals.
• The streets are not always safe and we spend less time outdoors exercising.
• TV, computers and video games are more entertaining, and more sedentary, than ever
The number of people among the population who were overweight or obese held steady for many years until the 1980s. Then, a sharp rise in the level of obesity occurred in the United States. Over a roughly 30 year time period, we have seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of Americans in almost every state who are now considered overweight or obese.
To be considered overweight, you must have a body mass index of greater than 25. To be considered “obese” in the medical sense, you must have a body mass index over 30. Today, more than 2/3 of Americans are overweight.
So what has changed in that relatively short time frame of 30 years or so? Well if you are old enough, think back to what was different then. You probably realize that most people ate more meals at home, portions were smaller, and people tended to have more time on their hands to be active and outdoors.
You might not be aware of the extent to which meals have increased in size and in calorie content over that time frame. For example, the average meal has increased in calories by approximately 1/3. Greater numbers of people eat more of their meals in restaurants and fast food establishments. Those same establishments have dramatically increased the portion sizes and calorie content of their offerings. And, people have less time to shop, cook, prepare fresh fruits, vegetables and grains and exercise outdoors. Think for a moment if any of that information seems surprising to you or if it fits your own lifestyle.