Solutions for our Nation's Obesity (Part 1)

So you’ve put on a few pounds, slacked off on your diet, and your physical activity has diminished. Having a few extra pounds on you doesn’t mean your health is a disaster. In fact, you can be just as healthy as a very lean person if you are slightly overweight. The problem is when the scale tips to obesity. Once obese, there really is no justification, you’re health risk is much greater than your skinnier counterparts. So how do you know if you’re actually obese? The BMI scale was created in 1830 as a simple tool to measure body size. If your number is over 24.9, you’re obese. Although I personally think this measurement is out of date, it is an easy metric to measure your body mass. By diving your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared, you can get an idea of how lean or overweight you are. The biggest problem with the BMI is the fact that muscle weighs more than fat meaning you could be incredibly jacked and still be considered overweight.

Surprisingly, the US ranks 12th most obese nation in the world this year. The only nations ahead of the US are small pacific islands. So what makes us American’s rank so high on the BMI? There isn’t just one answer to this question, but to start, let’s talk about business. Take a peak at this article here if you want your mind blown. Jugerrnaut companies like Nestle and PepsiCo rule the industrialized food market. This essentially means that the majority of the options we are given in grocery stores are complete garbage. As huge businesses, this model is brilliant; make food that is really cheap, sell it for way more than it is worth but still cheap, and most importantly, addict your consumers so they keep coming back for more. To preserve their brand name they will gobble up companies like Naked to come off as a “healthy” brand. I myself am guilty of supporting Pepsico. I recently bought some unsweetened Quaker oats for my breakfast. I’m not suggesting that you never walk into a grocery store again or avoid anything packaged, I just want to bring to light who rules our food choices. That would be the company whose top selling products are Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Lay’s Chips.

Getting away from soda and potato chips is a great start. Soda and other sweets have been engineered to get you addicted. High fructose corn syrup quickly raises blood sugar which in turn signals a huge release of dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel great. Cocaine works the same way. The problem? Just like all hormones in the body that are manipulated to go above normal levels, we hit a low to compensate and reach homeostasis. In other words, we crash and crave more to get that dopamine high again. Food also works similarly to a drug in that we develop a tolerance; a need for more to get a similar response.

The worst part is even though we resist these foods in the grocery store, there are constant subliminal messages that encourage us to indulge. Lots of money can produce lots of wide spread advertising. Companies like PepsiCo tie in their products to our very own culture. It is no surprise that during the Superbowl we see Pepsi ads. Using celebrities to promote products makes us feel a part of something popular and trendy by consuming the advertised product. This strategy is incredibly effective and no other nation has mastered this manipulation better than us Americans.

For those families who are impoverished, feeding the family with what you have is the priority. Cheap food is also calorie dense, nutrient poor food. It’s sad to see a nation in which the poorest are the largest. The fact that you can go through the drive through at McDonald’s and feed yourself for a couple dollars is crazy! That leads me to my next point, fast food nutritionally sucks and calorically rocks. What is a diabetic’s nightmare? A burger and fries. Combining refined carbohydrates with saturated fats causes a metabolic disaster that raises blood sugar and hinders weight maintenance. Not only do we have options at every mile, our nation’s fast food chain has reached all continents. When I visit Europe I see Burger King, McDonald’s of course, and Starbucks. For some reason many people in the world see American culture as cool and exciting. Probably due to our advertising skills. This in turn, makes these fast food chains cool as well. Not only have we successfully screwed ourselves, but we’re beginning to screw the world.

Government subsidizing is completely backwards. Corn for feeding beef, cotton, and even tobacco are all subsidized by the government. This means that producers can charge less for their product because they are getting a nice check from the government before selling to the consumer. This makes meat and dairy cheaper while fruits and vegetables that WE eat aren’t as cheap. This isn’t to say that fruits and veggies aren’t affordable, I’m saying they could be even less if our government supported these crops. Small organic farms are being pushed out for big, industrial farms. This is more of a political issue but is still relevant to our broken food system.

If we could reduce sugar consumption, reduce fast food consumption, and increase whole food intake, that would solve the majority of our obesity issues here. Stay tuned for the other aspects of this issue.

Jesse Rich