Perhaps the biggest disappointment about the latest news on obesity rates in this country is that they are continuing to rise at all, even slightly. It was fully expected by health officials that the numbers would begin trending downward. After all, when the government and public health community made it a national priority to reduce smoking years ago, the commitment generated results. Today only an estimated 15 percent of Americans smoke, down from a high of 42 percent in the 1960s.
We have been prodding people in one way or another for decades to change their behaviors when it comes to eating and exercise – with little results to show from it. As pointed out in a special report in the publication Harvard Public Health, just substituting whole grains for refined grains can lead to a loss of nearly 100 calories a day. Not only that, but whole grains speed up metabolism, cutting the number of calories that the body hangs on to. This single adjustment to diet will also change the digestibility of other foods on the plate. Substituting brown rice for white rice, or barley for pita bread, can produce a health benefit the equivalent of a brisk 30-minute walk.
While theories abound about the benefits of exercise, it is safe to say that avoiding sedentary behavior or prolonged bouts of sedentary behavior is good for you. It is generally an accepted fact that the harmful effects of excess weight are offset by exercise. We know, for example, studies show exercise seems to cancel out the negative effects of weight when it comes to heart disease.
“Farmers have known for thousands of years that if you put animals in a pen, don’t let them run around, and load them up with grains, they get fat,” says Harvard nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett. “That’s basically what has been happening to people: We created the great American feedlot. And we added in sugar, coloring, and seductive promotion for low-fat junk food.”
What is now indisputable is that the current obesity epidemic was incited not by a sudden wave of individual gluttony but, as the Harvard report points out, by a radical and toxic change in our food environment.
Given the current state of affairs, maybe it is time to start putting this escalating crisis into language decision-makers and the unengaged can easily understand; messaging that will appeal to politically divergent audiences and will activate us and unite us.
The obesity epidemic affects us all, from the individual to society. According to senior researcher Dr. Bruce Lee of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, getting behind weight loss efforts could generate huge savings. This conclusion is part of the results of the study that examines how obesity affects both individuals and society as well.
Being overweight or obese triggers a number of biological processes. What is not fully understood are the mechanisms by which obesity ushers in disease. Some studies have found that some people with obesity are spared the medical complications of excess weight. For example, one study found overweight and obese people who also exercised regularly had heart disease rates similar to those of normal weight people who also exercised.
The notion that this group is not a factor in public health costs seems to be disputed by the report. According to their results, an obese 50-year-old with normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels will end up costing society more than $36,000 in direct medical care as well as lost productivity from disability or time off from work. The researchers estimate that almost two-thirds of his lifetime costs to society could be avoided if an obese 20-year-old shed enough pounds to drop to the overweight category. If a healthy but obese 70-year-old crossed to the overweight category, this person’s lifetime costs could be cut by about 40 percent.
As Ted Kyle, a spokesperson for the Obesity Society and founder of ConscienHealth, tells CBS News, what distinguishes the Johns Hopkins study is that it documents the costs of untreated obesity, which is the norm in this country. Using a computer model, researchers were able to estimate the financial toll that obesity typically takes at different ages.
According to research by the World Obesity Federation, in 2014 the U.S. paid $325 billion per year to treat cancers, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and other health issues linked to being severely overweight or obese. Unless significant action is taken to address the epidemic, this figure is expected to reach $555 billion by 2025. The study estimates the total expenditure for health care in America for obesity-related illness between 2017 and 2025 to reach $4.2 trillion. Meanwhile, there are readily available large government programs out there, such as the Diabetes Prevention Program, that can make a difference. It has been known to slash the risk of type 2 diabetes among overweight and at-risk adults. The problem is, many people in need of this program do not know about it.
It is going to take more and better persuading, public education, and policy adjustments if we are to bring about the long-term changes in diet and physical activity needed to reverse the looming and catastrophic costs that await us in the near future; not to mention needed advances in medication and surgery for those that need it. And, we will all have to pay for it.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.