I live in Los Angeles. I just read that over half (55%) of LA County’s adult population are either overweight or obese. (You can read this too at www.lapublichealth.org.) We all know that there are many whom are overweight, but half of our local population? I’m still in shock. On the other hand, countless articles have cited that obesity is “the great American public-health problem”. This gets me thinking – if obesity is the leading cause of chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, stroke, and some types of cancer) then where does this weigh in on the health care debate, and why aren’t we doing more to prevent it?
Dr. Christine Olson, a professor of community nutrition at Cornell University (www.cornell.edu) recently published research citing that a mother’s weight gain during pregnancy has a direct association with the weight of her child in early life. After following more than 200 mothers and children, Olson found that if the mother gained more than the recommended 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, her child was more likely to be overweight at age three. Yes, that’s age three.
Let’s pick up the thread and follow this would-be three year old. Her Mom, after a hard day’s work, fights traffic to pick up her daughter from day-care. On the way home, Mom stops for fast food. After all, the kid is hungry and the convenience and low cost is alluring. (Plus, there’s the toy that comes with the meal.) The fast-food habit kicks in, and the food preferences take hold of the kid. Fast forward to this same child now in school. Physical education has been reduced (and in some schools, completely eliminated.) The kid goes to the school’s cafeteria, where she is offered more available high-fat, low-fiber foods and sweetened drinks. In her neighborhood, the community has reduced sidewalks and areas for physical activity. After-school programs at parks are no longer offered. There is little that promotes recreation by walking or cycling. Mom and Dad, often at work, rely on the television and/or computer to keep the kid entertained. Furthermore, the contents of their refrigerator reflect the simple truth of the dollar: the real price of soda has fallen 33 percent over the last three decades. The real price of fruit and vegetables has risen more than 40 percent. So it’s Coke and Pepsi that line the shelves. And I wondered why obesity is a national epidemic?
There is a clinical word for a way to help rectify our wrongs: “Population-Based Prevention of Obesity”. A new, comprehensive, population-based strategy published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association ( www.americanheart.org) recommends broad policy and environmental strategies that can help people adopt healthy behaviors, like being physically active and eating right. What does this mean? We begin to see the obesity problem as one that affects all of us and we take civic action to change it. After all, we not only tax tobacco, we don’t even allow smoking in many public areas. Yet when I visit Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, there is Mickey D’s in plain view right on the first floor. Should we tax soda? Obesity-provoking cafeteria meals? Instead of government debating taxes back and forth, it would be wildly refreshing to see true change. The incentive should be repeated again and again: to a large degree, we control the future of our own health. J. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar at theInstitute of Medicine has estimated that only 10 percent of early deaths are the result of substandard medical care. About 20 percent stem from social and physical environments, and 30 percent from genetics. The biggest contributor, at 40 percent, is behavior.
Here at www.oomphtv.com we profile those over forty who are doing amazing things with their lives. A 94 year old runner, a trapeze artist in her late forties, an engaged full-time teacher who is still going strong in her late eighties. All of our storytellers thus far have had the blessings of good health. Let’s hope we can all help tip the balance toward healthy, active children so that the younger generation has just as much oomph! as their elders.