Obesity: a lasting epidemic

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An estimated 36.5 percent of adults in the U.S. have obesity, according to a study published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in Nov. 2015. This means that about one in every three adults that you will meet in your life will be obese.

There are many causes of obesity, but according to the National Institutes of Health ‘s website, (NIH) the primary cause is a lack of energy balance.

In short, the amount of caloric intake does not equal the amount of energy used.

Unfortunately, n the public eye, obese persons are often thought to be lazy.

Worn out phrases such as “Just eat less,” or “Work out more,” are spoken behind the backs of their obese or overweight friends.

But where does the blame lie?

There is an amount of personal responsibility in staying healthy, but there is a bigger monster. One that exists in every city, neighborhood, and street corner in the U.S.

Multitudes of food markets.

Not only do we have supermarkets filled with unhealthy, processed foods, but food markets have crept up everywhere. Mini-marts, Wawas, fast food restaurants; these exist on nearly every street.

And it doesn’t stop at the mere accessibility of these unwholesome foods. We see depictions of them everywhere. TV ads, roadside billboards, magazine ads, and social media posts are just a few examples of the immense number of mediums that exist for the food industry.

On the NIH’s website, among the list of obesity causes is a note: “Americans are surrounded by ads from food companies. Often children are the targets of advertising for high-calorie, high-fat snacks and sugary drinks. The goal of these ads is to sway people to buy these high-calorie foods, and often they do.”

The truth is right in front of us in every sense.

We are trained to eat.

To say the blame rests with individuals alone is ridiculous. The odds are stacked against us, and adults aren’t the only victims.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s website, (CDC) “The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s.”

Now, 16.9 percent of children aged two to 19 are obese, according to the American Heart Association’s website.

The sad truth is that the food industry doesn’t want to help.

Cheap, manufactured foods are easier to produce, and very profitable.

Contrarily, organic foods and foods low in added ingredients can be more expensive, and less available to consumers.

The food industry is profit-driven, and holds a huge portion of the American market. In fact, the agricultural industry accounted for $985 billion of U.S. GDP in 2014, according to the USDA’s website.

On a scale so vast, it is little wonder that the average American has a hard time staying healthy.

Although individuals may not be entirely to blame for the epidemic of obesity, they are the front line for combatting the problem, and the first step is awareness.

Knowing what is in your food is crucial to staying healthy, and food labels are the biggest and most important source. For a long time, however, the FDA’s regulations on food labels were relatively lax. But as obesity rates grow, the FDA has clamped down on its standards.

On May 20, 2016 the FDA announced new standards for the food labels put on nearly all food products. Its goals are “to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease,” and to “make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.”

Despite the update, individuals should still be aware that sugar, one of the main causes of obesity in foods, can be hidden in food labels.

Currently, there are over 50 names for added sugars. Among them are anhydrous dextrose, malt syrup, maltose, pancake syrup, sucrose, cane juice, evaporated corn sweetener, crystal dextrose, glucose, liquid fructose, fruit nectar, and the famous high fructose corn syrup.

Although obesity rates are still growing, there is hope.

Individuals need to consider their needs and understand that, although the food industry will never fully endorse being healthy, there are healthy options available to consumers in the form of organic and locally grown foods, many of which are available at low cost.

Just be careful not to fall into healthy alternative scams that food companies push in the form of reduced fat or low-fat substitutes that merely replace the levels of fat with sugar or sodium.

When all is said and done, the blame rests with all of us.

We all owe equal share to what we eat, and remaining ignorant of what is healthy and what is not isn’t an excuse. Parents need to know what their children are eating if they want them to be healthy, and adults still need to take personal responsibility for what they consume.

After all, you will reap the benefits of what you eat.

Contact Joshua Patton at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu