The Epidemic

          This generation is a growing generation. Technology is growing, business is growing, but not all growth is good. People are getting bigger too. Obesity has now been dubbed an epidemic, and what is the world to do? Something can be done. There are two levels on which change can happen; first, in the economy. And second, in the individual.
For starters, obesity is caused by the consumption of too many calories for the body to burn up. In an article by Barbara Mantel, a list of society’s causes of obesity was made.  This list included: the amount of time spent in front of television and computers, desk jobs, less time in recess at schools, more eating out, bigger portion sizes, etc. The causes of all of these factors come down to being either one of two things; the economy’s influence on society (e.g., more desk jobs), or a personal choice made by an individual (e.g., more time spent in front of television and computers).
Because of this ever-changing society, it is becoming harder to adapt the ways of the common American and their health habits to something that would be healthier. Thomas Farley points out that even though eating behaviors depend on an individual, people and their needs haven’t been changing throughout the years. What has been changing is the economy. He sticks to the conclusion that the economy is what has to change for this epidemic to go away (46).
There have been some theories and methods that have been made for our society and what could be changing in this economy to help obesity. One of these theories is that cities and States should be taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, but the question was raised about whether or not just sugar-sweetened beverages should be blamed for the population being overweight (Mantel).  Of course there are many other potential foods that people are over consuming.  However, while in my nutrition through the lifespan class it has been made clear to me that drinking calories is one of the major causes of obesity.
First of all, it isn’t likely that an individual that consumes part of their daily calories in liquid form credits that drink for being a part of their energy (calories) consumed. Also, during some of my class discussions included what kind of recommendations should be given to someone who has troubles with being underweight, and is being effected seriously (i.e. has become infertile because of it). We were directed to recommend to these individuals that they gain weight.  Among the recommended methods used to gain weight, it is said that they should drink some of their calories. Drinking fruit juice, milk with fat, soda pop, or anything that yields energy (calories) is an easy source for those who have troubles getting enough calories in their diet. The problem is that a good number of people don’t need more calories in their diet.
Drinking between meals has been shown to help one feel hungry more often. In the case of overeating, these drinks can make someone want to eat more than is needed. It is by consuming too many calories that a person becomes overweight or obese. Given this evidence, I have to conclude that sugar-sweetened beverages do have an effect on a person and their weight, seeing as they have a lot of calories and are consumed often. Again these facts do not prove that taxing sugar-sweetened drinks will completely stop obesity, but the theory behind this idea is what makes the difference.
 Just the other day, my fiancé and his friend invited me to eat with them at the university cafeteria. I had never been there before. As I walked around to get my food I started to notice little things around me encouraging me to eat healthier. Little signs above every single item of food with serving sizes and calories posted on them, signs framed on the walls recommending healthier alternatives to sugary drinks and other treats. I had also noticed on the television with the menu slowly blinking across the screen; it said: ‘All you care to eat’ (instead of the usual ‘all you can eat’). I can honestly say that the healthy organization of this cafeteria did not make me feel discouraged about not eating right, or eating too much, but I felt like I had the option, and the power to make a healthy choice for myself. I was being informed, and the fact that I was being informed about what I was eating made me feel in control. The work was being done for me, by telling me how much to eat, and how much energy I would be getting from that amount. It is already required that nutrition facts are on all food labels, but why not food menus?
Thomas Farley, in his article A Healthier Urban Jungle, gave some statistics from New York regarding calories being posted on menus in restaurants (This is another method that is hoped to help the epidemic). It was said that as of 2008 in New York, it is required to have chain restaurants put up calories on their menus and menu boards. Twenty-five percent of these customers in New York seem to be purchasing meals that are at least 100 calories fewer than normal (46). This rule will hopefully be applied to all States by the end of 2011 (Mantel). Having experienced calories on menu boards myself, I don’t doubt these statistics. It will be an ideal change.
One last method in the economy’s level of things would be restricting food marketing to children. I was given an assignment this spring semester by my nutrition professor. In this assignment I was instructed to sit down and watch an hour of television. For one half of the hour I was to watch a television show that was directed towards children and record all of the nutrition related commercials that I saw. One of the most appalling commercial was one directed toward children. This commercial was claiming that the joys of life come in a happy meal box. There was sunshine, laughter, happy music and smiles. I’m sure that the commercial was happy, but I am not so sure that a child will be able to find joy in a little red box, at least not long-term joy. Unhealthy foods should not be seen as positive things.
The way we view food personally is actually what gets me to my next topic: Dealing with obesity on a personal level. In Amy Strickland’s nutrition book, David Kessler is interviewed. Throughout the interview Kessler explains why it is that people become practically addicted to food. He explains what the mixture of fat, sugar, and salt does to our minds, as well as the nostalgic value of the foods that we eat. Kessler says that sugar, or fat, or salt alone, can be addicting, but when put together they stimulate our brains and make us happy. We start to relate these feelings to things we see, smell, eat, or places that we go, and as time goes on these memories and thoughts get harder to resist, so hard it becomes a fix or an addiction.
In a testimonial of a young obese woman, she recalls dieting since she was 14 years of age. In result of her multiple diets, she had become obese (This is the case for many other people around the world as well). She got put into a program where, along with her weight watchers, she was seeing a therapist and writing in her ‘food journal’. She describes this food journal as her “life boat” on her way to becoming healthy. Whenever she eats she records it. When she feels like eating, but doesn’t need to, she records it. When she gets emotional and wants to turn to food, she turns to her journal instead. In a matter of 4 months, she was able to steadily lose an all-together 35 pounds, and she is still losing (Mantel). Having a food journal doesn’t just need to be for someone to cope with eating problems. I have done diet analyses on myself multiple times that required me to keep a log of my food intake for up to a week. At times it was hard to remember to do it, but while I was eating and preparing food, I had in mind that I was going to be recording what I was eating. This thought would move me to want to prepare something better for myself.
It isn’t necessary for everyone to record what they are eating, but it is the mindset behind it. It has become too normal to passively feed oneself when hungry, until he or she starts to see the results of their poor choices. And what is it that comes to mind after seeing horrible results from food? ‘I need to eat better’ is the thought, but in this “now” world, we need results now, and those results come through dieting. Let me get this point across, a diet should be defined as what a person consumes. A person with a healthy diet consumes healthy things. A person with an unhealthy diet consumes unhealthy things. A diet is NOT something that a person “goes on” and loses weight on. An individual’s diet should be a lifestyle. The typical “diet” is not possible to survive on. Be aware of what is being consumed! Is it a healthy choice? A healthy diet is possible to survive on.
Kessler also goes on to talk about dieting and how that affects this mind set. He says, “Deprivation increases the reward value of food unless you substitute something you want more. And after you lose the weight, the old circuitry is still there.” He then talks about how we can fight back. Like tobacco was, food is made to be seen as something people should like, “The real success was that we changed how people viewed the stimulus. We changed from seeing tobacco as glamour to perceiving it as a deadly, disgusting product.” I really think that this thought and mind set can be a motive to move on from and change the way that we think about food. We can start by following these steps that Kessler has constructed to come back from a world revolved around food.
            The first step he has is to “replace chaos with structure. Determine ahead of time what you’ll eat for meals and snacks. Block out everything else” (84-87). Making a weekly menu could work, as well as only buy foods for certain meals, and only buying healthy snacks so you don’t wind up snacking on something unhealthy.
            The second step is “practice just right eating. Figure out how much food you need. (Odds are it’s less than you think.) Put it on your plate and don’t go back for more”. Third; “Pick foods that will satisfy, not stimulate, you. What satisfies you is personal, but try foods that occur in nature, like whole grains, beans, non-starchy vegetables, and fruit, combined with lean protein and small amounts of fat.” Fourth; “Rehearse. Anticipate your moves like an elite athlete before a competition. For example, tell yourself, “If I encounter chocolate-covered pretzels, I’ll keep walking.” And fifth; “Seize control. Stay alert to emotional stressors or other stimuli that trigger automatic behavior. Recognize emotions (like sadness, fatigue, or anxiety) that might lead you to overeat” (84-87).
Knowing facts and becoming educated about what can be done is what puts citizens at a lower risk for issues such as obesity. I think that because this issue has turned into an epidemic, people ought to know more. Being overweight and obese is killing people. If this gets advertised, people will be educated, and better choices can be made.

Works Cited

Farley, Thomas. "A Healthier Urban Jungle." Scientific American Feb. 2011: 46. Print.
Freedman, David H. "How to Fix the Obesity Crisis." Scientific American Feb. 2011: 40-47. Print.
Mantel, Barbara. "Preventing Obesity." CQ Researcher 1 Oct. 2010: 797-820. Web. Mar. 2011.
Strickland, Amy. "Unit 4: Obesity and Weight Control." Annual Editions: Nutrition 10/11. Boston, Ma.: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 84-87. Print.

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