The Obesity Epidemic

The Obesity Epidemic

October 12, 2019 72 By Ewald Bahringer


DR. DIETZ:
Obesity costs this country about $150 billion a year, or almost 10%
of the national medical budget. Approximately 1 in 3 adults
and 1 in 6 children are obese. [ Monitor beeping ] Obesity is epidemic
in the United States today and a major cause of death, attributable to heart disease,
cancer, and diabetes. [ Flatline ] At its simplest, obesity results from people consuming more
calories than their bodies burn, but it’s a more complex problem
than that. People didn’t decide
to become overweight. Their weight gain
is a consequence of complicated changes
in the environment, where food
is more readily available and opportunities for
physical activity are lacking. DR. O’TOOLE: Societal, economic,
cultural conditions have all contributed
to the rise in obesity. DR. MOORE:
One contributing factor is the fact that the way we eat
has changed over the last 50 years. Americans are eating
more processed foods and eating out
a lot more frequently. The foods that are offered
in restaurants, snack shops, and in vending machines are higher in sugar,
calories, and fat than what we typically prepare
in our own homes. We are surrounded by food. We’re constantly bombarded
by it. We’re consuming
larger portion sizes and more calories
than ever before. Another factor is that people who live in poor
and rural communities may have less access
to quality grocery stores that sell healthy
and affordable options. In these areas, it might be
easier and cheaper for residents to purchase less healthy foods
and beverages. DR. O’TOOLE:
Other factors, such as technology and the way
we build our communities, has influenced our lives. Both of these factors
have left us more sedentary. Families must drive
to work and school because it’s often
too far to walk. Many communities
are built in ways that simply make it difficult or
unsafe to be physically active. For many families, safe routes for walking and biking
to school or play may not even exist. Getting to parks and recreation
centers may be difficult. Public transportation
may not even be available. And we spend a lot of time
sitting in front of screens for work and for entertainment. [ Engine rumbles ] Also, too few students get daily quality
physical education in schools. DR. MOORE: There is no single
or simple solution to the obesity epidemic. It’s going to take solutions
at many levels in order to resolve
the epidemic. What can each of us do
as individuals to be healthier? First, we can eat
more fruits and vegetables and fewer foods that are higher
in fat and sugar. We can also drink more water
instead of sugared drinks. Everyone, including adults
of all ages and ability levels and children, need to get the recommended
amount of physical activity. Parents can listen
to their pediatricians and restrict television viewing
for their young children to less than two hours a day, and we can not put televisions
in our children’s bedrooms. How can we work together
as communities to resolve the obesity epidemic? Communities can expand access
to fruits and vegetables through farmers-markets programs
like this one in Brownsville, Texas. DR. GOWEN: The market was
designed for the sole intent of reducing obesity rates and improving diabetes rates
in our community. There’s a wide range of people
who come to the market from different walks of life. DR. MARTIN: Low-income families,
who may not be able to afford some of the fruits
and vegetables — the voucher program
has been very instrumental. DR. MOORE:
Communities can also advocate for quality nutrition programs and physical education
in their school systems. One way to do that is through
school health advisory councils. UDARBE: The school health
advisory council is something
that doesn’t cost any money and it is relatively little
amount of time, and it brings together
a diverse group of people from the community
and the schools. STUDENT:
I like to be healthy because I want to be
big and strong. UDARBE: Because schools face
so much pressure to try to do
so many other things, the school health
advisory council is the perfect way for schools
to achieve this. DR. O’TOOLE: Local governments
and communities can play an important role in developing environments that encourage and support
active living. They can increase opportunities
for physical activity by encouraging
mixed-use development to allow for easy access
to schools, businesses, parks, and grocery stores. They can implement
traffic-safety measures and crime-prevention strategies. Building bike paths, sidewalks,
and crosswalks will foster safe and easy access
to more physical activity. States and local governments can provide incentives
to existing markets to offer healthier food, and they can also provide
incentives for new businesses to establish their supermarkets
in low-income areas. WOMAN: The quality of
the produce is much better, and, of course,
it’s less expensive than at the corner stores, and it is very helpful
to the neighborhood, I think, to, overall, be
a more healthier neighborhood. MAN: I had lived in Philadelphia
all my life, and I had never — there never was a market
like this around here that we can walk to
that’s a convenience and, on top of that,
healthy foods. DR. O’TOOLE: Employers can offer
work-site health programs that offer a variety of options
for their employees, such as this program
in Austin, Texas. TEAGUE:
This used to just be a place to come to work and go home, and now it’s a place where you
can come and get in your workout and get in your support group
for your weight loss. And instead of just going
to the short-order cook and having a burger and fries, you can have a nice,
healthier sandwich, and that’s —
that’s made a difference. DR. O’TOOLE: In addition,
employers can make it easier for women to continue
breast-feeding when they return to work because babies
who are breast-fed are less likely to become
overweight later in life. DR. DIETZ:
There is no simple solution to the obesity epidemic. People need to make
better choices, but we also have to change
those choices in our schools, in our child-care settings, in our work sites,
and in our communities.