One of the reasons I became so passionate about health and fitness is because I grew up with such a lack of knowledge in the area. I knew I was supposed to eat healthy and exercise, but I didn’t know how to start and what information was legitimate.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only person who has suffered from a lack of education in this area. If you look around at the average population, it isn’t hard to see that we are doing something wrong as a whole. It’s amazing how sick our population is, how malnourished as a nation we are, how many people are taking medications for diseases that a healthy diet could have helped to prevent. We live in a time where our life expectancy has actually decreased; we are unhealthier than the generation before us.
Currently, 70% of the US population is overweight, 30% of which fall into the obese category. They predict that by 2030, 50% of the adult population will be obese. The most saddening fact is that currently 1 in 5 children are obese. On average, Americans over-consume by 300 calories a day. If a person does this every day for a year, that’s a net gain of 30 pounds! It is clear that our country is facing an epidemic, and we need to do something about it.
I love a lot of things about the US, but I feel like we do a very poor job informing our citizens about how to take care of themselves, and our government is a large part of that. Instead, our nation prides itself on the ability for its citizens to deprive themselves from basic, healthy needs. We demand that our workers work unruly hours. We brag to each other about how little sleep we got the night before. We talk about drinking coffee as if we could’t live without caffeine. And people are often looked down upon if they take time away from their busy schedules to take care of themselves.
I think we really need a change when it comes to how we think about our food and wellbeing, both individually and as a nation. Here’s some food for thought:
1) Only in America do we try to equate food with good value. We like the dollar menu because it’s cheap and easy to get a hold of. We roam the grocery store looking for that deal we cannot pass up, even though there isn’t one natural ingredient in the entire box and we don’t really need it. We would rather buy non-organic, preservative-laden foods because it saves us a few bucks. Most other developed countries around the world spend a bigger percentage of their hard-earned cash on food, especially because they are willing to pay for high-quality goods that benefit their bodies. In the US, we skimp on the cost of groceries and instead spend that money on healthy care in later years to pay for the damage we have done to ourselves. In reality, we should be spending more on quality foods now, so that we can live long, healthy lives and not have to worry about as many doctor bills in the future.
2) We are a working culture. Our lives often revolve around our jobs. Out of all the first-world countries, we are one of the highest when it comes to hours worked annually. Many of us work long shifts, have overtime, get no maternity/paternity leave, and don’t take vacations. Workplaces often cut back on break times, and we eat lunch at our desks. Given all this, it is more important that ever to take care of ourselves so we don’t wear ourselves out. But the opposite has happened. Because of lack of leisure time, we try to find time for ourselves in other places, food specifically. It started in the 1950’s with frozen dinners. By getting rid of meal prepping and cooking times, it allow the wife to go back to work and provide more income, or git allowed her to do more housework than ever before. From there, fast food boomed. As women integrated more and more into the work place and people began to work more non-conventional hours, we decided that home-cooked meals were not worth the time and effort anymore. But in reality, they are exactly what we need. We need those nutrients to keep us healthy in our stressful lives, and we need that time with our families to connect and re-charge.
3) Our media heavily advertises food, specifically junk food. McDonalds alone spent more than 2.5 times the amount of advertising than all fresh produce products last year, and that’s just one fast food company! In 2010, the food industry spent 12 billion on advertising, 4 billion of it was in fast food. On top of that, 1 in 3 fast food/junk food advertisements are aimed at children. Our kids are being bombarded day in and day out with commercials for foods that are simply designed to hook children in and make them life-long buyers, offering nothing but empty calories. Other counties have cracked down on their junk food advertising, only allowing for so many to air in a given time or stipulating that companies must provide clear insight to how much sugar, salt, and fat their products carry. Our country should follow pursuit.
4) Our government is currently in bed with many of the biggest food producers in American. Kraft, Dannon, General Mills, and Pepsi-Co all have lobbyists within Washington DC who back politicians and pad their pockets so that the right legislation goes through. Government subsidies are then given out to farmers who grow corn, soybeans, and wheat because those are the crops that are used the most often in fast food and processed grocery products. Because of this, to make a living, more and more farmers are having to switch to these cash crops and away from produce. That’s why the inflation of soft drink costs have only gone up 20% since 1985, whereas fresh fruits and vegetables have seen a rise of 117%. As voters, we need to let our government know that we do not support such lobbying and that subsidies should be provided for healthier crops.
While these are huge cultural shifts that will not happen all at once, it is important that we continue to talk and acknowledge them. I firmly believe that your vote and voice are important influences, and if we believe in these things strongly enough, we can help to make our country healthier in the future. It starts at the local level, so get involved with your community if you want a say in your country’s overall health.