Why Obesity is Affecting All Americans

I have to say, I’m sad to see the Skinny on Obesity series coming to an end. I hope you have enjoyed learning from Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Elissa Epel and the other various experts presented herein. If you are a health fitness specialist or seeking additional personal training education, I sincerely hope that my blog summaries have intrigued you enough to go and watch the material for your own edification.

In the seventh and final episode of The Skinny on Obesity, Dr. Robert Lustig again begins with a provocative question: “Why should you care if you are not fat?”  Do other people being fat affect you?”

His answer, “Damn right it does. And you have to care.”

He then goes on to detail some minor inconveniences caused by people being overweight. Examples include the increased use of jet fuel, discomfort on the subway, or even boats sinking due to people being heavier than they were in the past. These, however, are not the reasons that the obesity of others affects non-obese people.  The following are examples of how obesity affects all of us:

  • 65 billion dollar reduction in productivity due to obesity
  • 50% increase in absenteeism due to obesity.
  • $147 billion annually health care costs due to metabolic syndrome.
  • Obesity has been deemed a threat to national security, because 30% of people trying to join the military were rejected on account of obesity. (I’d say that affects all of us.)

“You are affected by this epidemic of obesity,” Elissa Epel. There is no question about it.

The video depicts obesity not as a personal responsibility problem, but rather as a societal problem. I find this refreshing. Let’s stop blaming people who don’t have access to healthy, unprocessed food.  Dr. Lustig explains that “80% of the food in grocery stores has been laced with sugar, thereby limiting consumer choice.” In poor and underserved neighborhoods, there is no access to healthy, unprocessed food. “If you live in a poor neighborhood and have no choice, how can it be personal responsibility?”

“We need changes in food policy,” says Dr. Elissa Epel. How can we incentivize healthy food and sustainable farming? How do we tax the subsidized sugar-laced food that is killing us?  If sugar has been shown to be toxic and abused by individuals in our society, can we regulate it like we regulate tobacco or alcohol?

According to Dr. Lustig, “Public health officials consider regulation of a substance when the following four criteria are met:

  • Unavoidability
  • Toxicity
  • Abuse
  • Negative impact on society (externalities)

All of the criteria for societal intervention are met for regulating sugar. So why aren’t we doing anything about it?”

Actually, some people are doing something about it and you can, too.

In Washington D.C., doctors are giving low-income families “vegetable prescriptions;” or money to spend at farmer’s markets. This encourages healthy eating and sustainable agriculture.

This innovative approach of bringing locally grown, healthy produce to underserved communities is also being done by Wholesome Wave.  Their mission is “nourishing neighborhoods across America.”

If you live in the Twin Cities, you can get involved with The Minnesota Project and help pick fruits to donate to food shelves. This affords low-income people access to healthy, fresh, unprocessed food and prevents waste. Last year, over 12,000 pounds of fruit was donated.  Volunteer opportunities begin in mid-August and you can learn more at Fruits of the City.

You can also be cognizant of the amount of sugar that goes into your grocery cart every week.  When you spend money, you vote.

Every person counts and the food you eat affects all of us. Let’s work together to make some big changes in this country!