Things are crazy busy this week. Like CRAZY. I have two reports to write not to mention I am still (STILL?!) feeling sick. So I don’t have a ton of time to put together some posts until Thursday or Friday, but I wanted to get a conversation started today– and will follow up in other posts–on a pressing issue that runners or all people who are active should be talking about. That is, the obesity epidemic in America.
1985 Obesity Prevalence
2011 Obesity Prevalence
The numbers are scary, especially as they pertain to childhood obesity. As a policy analyst in the recent HBO documentary Weight of the Nation put it, “there is some regional variation but it is all different degrees of terrible. The levels are so high everywhere that every state has to pay attention to this issue, the health care costs not to mention the human burden are very high in every corner of this country.”
The most frustrating (but also possibly the best news) is that obesity is preventible. It just takes greater education, changes in eating culture, and a shift away from sedentary lifestyles. These are things that can be taught and learned (preferably at an early age). What’s it going to take? Well for one thing, a focus on the problem from the public policy standpoint. We need to stop cutting back on recess and physical fitness in schools and change what students are eating during lunch (I can tell you from personal experience as a former high school history teacher that the lunch options at most places are awful: pizza, fries, hamburgers, and maybe if kids are lucky they’ll pick up an apple).
A big part of the problem as it relates to what kids are eating in schools is that there is, according to the New York Times, “an increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals” and that these companies are “making students — a captive market — fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.” Those fighting against these huge companies like Aramark or Sodexo face an uphill battle. According to the article, Donna D. Walsh, a former school board president in Westchester County, N.Y. said she “worked to get Aramark to stop deep-frying food and to open a salad bar. But after a new superintendent came in, the company went back to profit-driven menus of pizza and bagels.”
If you haven’t checked it out already, the blog Fed Up With Lunch documents the school lunches and issues related to nutrition in schools. It began with an anonymous teacher (“Mrs. Q”) who in 2010 documented her experience eating lunch with the students. She took pictures and recorded what was eaten every day and documented the awful choices students have for lunch.
Recently, a couple of middle school students in Minnesota wrote an op-ed (with no doubt help from their teachers or parents) to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about how they only get 10-11 minutes for lunch. You can read the piece here. They have no time and have to scarf down their (probably unhealthy) lunches. In the op-ed the two students astutely observe: “Having to rush to eat is part of the reason for the obesity epidemic, eating disorders, indigestion and kids not doing well in school. There is research that proves all of these points. Kids just need more time to eat at school.” Not only did they explain the consequences of having such a short lunch period, but they also laid out some actual solutions In reaction to the piece, the superintendent joined the sixth grade at the school for lunch and timed it herself. She found she had 11 minutes to eat.
Why am I bringing this all up now? Well it’s something I think and worry about a great deal. Why have I been able to make healthy eating and fitness a habit but so many others have not? Was it my parents? My school experiences? Or is it just something I have stumbled upon myself? (p.s. it is most likely due to my parents, who fed me healthy low-fat meals full of different vegetables growing up, which I sometimes complained about at the time but obviously it was important). I’ve also been watching the HBO documentary Weight of the Nation, which is yet another call to action for our country to do something before health care costs, as well as the human toll, really skyrocket in the next decade.
The documentary comes in 4 parts, which you can watch online here.
I have much more to say on this issue, especially concerning the physical fitness (or lack there of) of students in schools. As a teacher, I’ve sat by and watched as school districts have cut back on physical education and recess even though our kids are getting more and more unhealthy.
What are your general thoughts on the obesity epidemic?
Have you seen parts of the HBO documentary Weight of the Nation?