In the United States, more than one-third of the population is considered obese. Some people are quick to place the blame for this public health crisis squarely on the individual. Genetics and lifestyle choices are common topics of discussion.
However, taking a closer look, it’s quite obvious that the American culture isn’t doing us any favors when it comes to staying healthy and fit. According to an average of rates taken from several scientific studies, 40 percent of the obesity epidemic is due to genetics and 60 percent is due to environmental factors.
Statistics show that obesity rates have more than doubled since the 1970s. Genetic lineage can’t change in the short span of 40 years, but the American culture sure has undergone some radical transformations in that same time span. Take a look at these examples:
Changes in the Food Environment
2. In 1977, Americans got 18 percent of their calories from snacking. In 2006, snacking accounted for 24 percent of total calories. Chips and salty snacks are now more popular than dairy products and fruit.
3. In the 1980s, a typical serving of spaghetti contained 500 calories. Today, it’s 1,020 per plate.
4. The average ready-to-eat, retail chocolate chip cookie is 700 times larger than the USDA’s recommended portion size.
5. In 1970, 34 percent of a family’s food budget was spent on eating out. In that late 1990s, it was nearly 50 percent.
6. More than $30 billion is spent every year on food-related marketing. A miniscule 2 percent of that is spent on promoting fruits and vegetables. Nearly 70 percent goes toward marketing sweets.
Changes in the Physical Activity Environment
7. Streets and neighborhoods are increasingly designed to facilitate transportation by automobile instead of walking or biking.
8. More than 44 percent of schools have shortened recesses and physical educations classes, or eliminated them altogether.
9. By the time today’s average American is 65 years old, that individual will have watched a collective nine years of television.
10. In the 1950s, 23 percent of Americans worked in low-activity jobs. Now, that number is 41 percent.
Medical professionals, public health educators, and lawmakers are all brainstorming ways to stop the obesity epidemic. New York City and its mayor, Michael Bloomberg, have tried to ban soda servings that are more than 16 ounces. The city has also nearly eliminated artery-clogging trans fats. Even the White House is promoting healthy eating and physical activity with the “Let’s Move” campaign.
While efforts to correct this cultural shift have been met with some resistance – for some reason, there are still many in New York City who to drink over 400 calories from a 32 oz Big Gulp – the spirit behind these initiatives remains important. Taking responsibility for our national obesity problem begins with the individual eating choices we make every day.
Over the next 40 years, do you think America’s obesity-promoting environment will improve or get worse?
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