Tuesday, December 28, 2010

USA leads the world in Obesity

Via: PepTalk WWMT.com

We live in a world where the number of people malnourished continues to rise yet we are also seeing a marked increase in the US rate of obesity, this according to a report written by USA Today's  "US Leads the World in Overweight and Obesity".  The opening paragraph of this reports is very telling:

"The number of those who are malnourished in the world continues to rise. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization the figure now stands at 1.02 billion with most people being located in the Sub Saharan Africa and Asia and the Pacific. In a perverse paradox The WHO suggests that 1.7 billion of the worlds 6 billion population are now overweight or obese. The United States with two thirds of all Americans, shockingly classified as overweight or obese leads the world. These extremes are the leading causes of health problems throughout the world today, with obesity being Americas ticking time bomb."

Why do they speculate that a nation that has been hugely successful, has a wide variety of foods available, access to information regarding health at their fingertips and the financial means to seek help for obesity has hit this ranking?   This trend towards obesity in the USA really started to become evident in the last thirty years and was first noticed by Katherine Flegal in the late1980's,  a fact I read in "The end of overeating" by David Kessler MD.  We, as a nation, are seen to view food as a pass time instead of say, the French, who enjoy food as part of an event to be enjoyed with family.  The French have what is known as the "French Paradox," as a nation they smoke more, eat richer foods, drink more wine and outlive people from the United States by 2 years.  Of course even France has seen an increase in obesity as people are shifting away from old world traditions and adopting the fast food habit of the US.  So why is it that we, as a nation, are experiencing this sharp increase in obesity rates, what drives the desire and why is the fastest rate of change among children?

One interesting study, from the Journal of Physiology, discusses findings that when eating high concentrations of junk food during pregnancy offspring of lab rats have a higher predisposition towards obesity.  Could this be where it all begins for so many of the children who suffer from higher rates of obesity today.  Considering that the current trend of eating fast foods, processed foods and removing the tradition of eating meals cooked at home around the dining room table, this might just be the case.  What if we explore this as a first approach to fighting the obesity epidemic in children, starting from conception and not after the child has been made to suffer the ill effect of the social and physical effect of obesity.

Could it be that as we have more access to fast, easy but nutritionally void foods that we have created an epidemic of obesity? We are focusing on the developing brain in regards to smoking, drugs and drinking while pregnant with child but not looking at the impact of what the mother is consuming for nutrition.   Could it be that obesity in a family isn't genetic so much as it is related to how the child is developed in the womb.  Instead of pregnant mothers "eating for two" with wanton abandon, using pregnancy as a license to eat without guilt, instead should they should be eating for the future health of their unborn child in an effort to break the obesity chain.    

This is an interesting thought process; in reality if a mother is eating poorly, is her child then born with a risk factor for obesity?  When the child is born the eating patterns of the parents tend not to change and are just as they were while pregnant, the trend towards food choices that are a poorly defined diet of fast and nutrient void foods continues.  This pattern being repeat generation after generation would certainly seem to create the marked increase in obesity rates in the last 30 years as the availability of fast foods has also increased.  This coupled with the recent shift in parenting; which is that children shouldn't go without and should have carte blanche access to candy, treats and fast food; this is a constant reward system gone askew.  Gone are the days when treats were just that, a treat!  Growing up we had treat for holidays and birthdays, my parents had them even less often than that, imagine a holiday celebration like that of poor Charlie Bucket; no cake, no presents just one annual candy bar ringing in the joy of a birthday and happy to have it too.  In our current society almost every meal consumed each day would be considered a once a year treat to someone growing up 40 years ago.  Today's nutrition is all treats with each and every meal from boxed sugar loaded breakfast cereals, lunches at fast food marts (some of which are in schools) followed up by take out or frozen meals for dinner. I have spoken to many parents that don't feed their children vegetables because they don't like them, really, they don't choose a carrot over a short order of fries, how shocking!!

If a child born to a drug addicted mother is born addicted, could the same be true then for addiction to foods high in sugar, fat and salt, can a child be born addicted to these foods as well?  Do the pleasure centers in the brain become wired to crave sugary salty fat loaded foods before birth?  Of course a child addicted to drugs has to go through the withdrawals but children addicted to junk foods don't have to ever quit their habits as they will quickly transition to the same foods they ate in the womb via their parents.  Using this theory then each generation will be born more predisposed to being obese than their parents before them.  To end this blog post with a surprising fact; many people who are obese are also at risk of being malnourished due to poor dietary choices.  We are seeing two ends of the spectrum in the report from USA Today; the obesity rate in America and the malnourishment rate in in the Sub Saharan Africa and Asia and the Pacific.  Could we someday lead both in obesity and malnourishment rates, lets put an end to this trend before we see that happening.

1 comment:

leannwoo said...

Great post Janet! Really makes you sit back and think. I am so glad I was not a fast food junky while pregnant!