The news is a grim: a new study suggests that if we do not stem the tidal wave that is obesity in the United States, life expectancy of those born in the 1970s and 1980s could be lower than those born in prior decades.
After factoring various demographic considerations, the team of sociologists who conducted this study, which was published on August 15 in the American Journal of Public Health, discovered that 18.2% of premature deaths from 1986-2006 were directly linked to obesity. This is a three and a half times greater percentage than the previously under-estimated 5% estimate for the same 20 year period.
Weight Gain Upsurge
In the early 1960s, the obesity rate in the United States was only 13%. At present, the obesity rate in 13 states is above 30%, more than 25% in 41 states, and over 20% in those remaining.
This is huge. And what makes this data more chilling is that despite tremendous medical advances, we cannot compensate for all of the complications associated with obesity, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. For all intents and purposes, we should be living longer.
So what’s changed in the last 50 years that explains a chubbier nation? Very simply, it boils down to lifestyle — i.e., eating and exercise habits. Let’s look at some of how life has evolved since then:
- McDonald’s. McDonald’s and all of the other fast food chains that make it too easy to consume more fat laden calories than our bodies can physically burn.
- McDonald’s, supersized. The late 80s and 90s ushered in a whole new wave of fast food -dom — we could super-size those already over-sized meals for just a few dollars more; the marketing strategy was brilliant — the message was subtle, but definitely there. You can get more bang for your buck if you eat ’til you nearly throw up (that rhymes, and I wasn’t even trying)
- Automation. The “touch of a button” mindset has made us complacent — we take the path of least resistance — which means, we’ve been lulled into a remote controlled stupor.
- Akin to the automation issue: we have to WORK at being physically active; our daily routines are largely sedentary — we have to schedule time for what our bodies were designed to do in the first place — move.
- Availability of junk food. Several years ago, it was reported that even though the French eat rich food, they are much thinner than we are — one reason is that unhealthy snacks via vending machines aren’t as available there. I don’t know how they’ve managed that, but they have. Good for them.
- Larger portions. We eat too much. We just do. Bigger is not better when it comes to plate size — by the way, this is another reason the French are not as obese as we are — they don’t eat as much. They enjoy rich foods for the intrinsic pleasure of eating them. Quality takes precedence over quantity.
We’ve got some radical changes to make — Dr. Earl Ford of the CDC reported in 2010 that in order to reduce obesity rates to 15%, the average American will have to reduce daily calorie consumption by 500 calories, and walk for two hours A DAY.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we got here, and more importantly, how we can reverse the trend.