|Broaching the Obesity Taboo—for Our Health and the Earth's|
|Thursday, 30 September 2010 00:00 | Written by Marita Prandoni | Blog Entry|
Like overpopulation, there is a taboo against discussing obesity in polite company. We may have overweight friends or family members whose feelings we don’t want to hurt, if we don’t otherwise struggle with a weight problem ourselves. But we need to confront this dreaded topic because obesity is not only a burden on the cardio-vascular system—it’s a burden on the health of our society and the environment.
According to the latest US obesity rankings, Mississippi is the chubbiest, with about a third of its population and nearly half of its children overweight. Because Mississippi also ranks near the bottom in education, it makes one wonder if there’s a link. Colorado residents are the leanest per capita, coming in at only 18.9% obese. Almost 20 years ago, no state ranked higher than 20%, so as a nation, we’re definitely beefing up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly a third of all Americans are obese.
Most frequently, obesity can be attributed to too much caloric intake and not enough exercise. Diets centered around industrialized food—heavy in over-processed sugars and carbohydrates often derived from genetically modified corn—and too much meat, cheese and trans-fats will definitely add extra pounds, especially if a person has a sedentary lifestyle. Carrying excessive body fat is a primary factor in poor health and rising healthcare costs. And extra fat tissue becomes a repository for pathogenic chemicals that circulate in the bloodstream, which can lead to cancer or systemic disease.
Genetics also play a role, especially in Native American populations, who throughout their history developed a thrifty metabolic rate to survive lean times when they lived off the land. But, like much of our society, they became seduced by heavily processed food before their metabolism could adapt. This love affair with junk food has precipitated a sharp rise in type 2 diabetes among Native Americans and society at large. A mostly preventable scourge, type 2 diabetes is projected to inflict 221 million people worldwide by 2010, a 46% increase since 1995.
Perhaps to avoid pointing a finger at healthcare, fast food and junk-food companies who sponsor their programs, the mainstream media has given little attention to scientific studies showing that synthetic chemicals in our food, water and natural environment—and even air pollution—are linked to obesity. One study found that the pollutant hexachlorobenzene, a pesticide, predisposes an unborn child to be twice as likely to become obese by the age of six and a half. These and other insidious chemicals in our environment (including bisphenol A) have been dubbed “obesogens” in recognition of their impact on weight gain.
One of the easiest ways we can prevent obesity and improve the environment is to eat unprocessed, locally grown food consisting mostly of vegetables and fruit. This not only boosts the local economy, but also reduces fossil fuel use by agribusiness (fertilizer is made from natural gas and heavy farming equipment runs on diesel fuel) and the semi-trucks that have to travel thousands of miles to deliver food to our grocery stores.
Food, Inc. is an informative and entertaining movie that addresses what’s in our food and why we should care. If we can educate ourselves about the causes of obesity and other food-related maladies, then act on this knowledge, we as a nation will slim down, breathe more easily and enjoy greater health. And we’ll be improving the planet’s health in the process.
Further recommended reading:
Updated 9/30/10; originally posted 7/5/09.