6 July 2011: Food for thought to end obesity

Food for thought to end obesity

Two indicators affirmed I had returned in May from the South: a foot of snow and not being asked to choose between sweet and non-sweet iced tea.

A young waitress born and raised in St. Augustine, Florida sweetly had explained that sugar-loaded iced tea is very much part of their culture.

For me though, that was one explanation for the reason southern states are ground zero for obesity. While it is true Colorado is the least obese state, the only one with less than 20 percent obesity, that’s small comfort: From 1990 to 2005, only obese Virginians percentage-wise outgrew obese Coloradans.

Sometime back, I checked out the primary ingredients of food items including peanut butter, jelly, and sports drinks. My findings—Jif’s first ingredients: peanuts and sugar; Smuckers preserves: fruit, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar; Gatorade: water, sucrose, and dextrose; and Powerade: water and high fructose corn syrup.

I did learn though there’s a difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, something about how we bundle sugar molecules to insure diversity. Thinking back to when I used to consume those products, I take consolation only in that I spread the pb & j on whole grain bread.

A year ago, the soft drink industry ran a political ad targeting legislators that voted to repeal tax breaks for soda. The mother comes home from the supermarket with bags of groceries including bottles labeled “soda” and decries how family budgets will be more overburdened with the additional tax—misinformation in that the legislature was not imposing a new tax but repealing a tax break.

The real message: Soda is an essential food group, but only from an economic point of view. The multi-billion dollar industry not only employs thousands from production to delivery, but it also helps doctors, dentists, and fitness centers stay in business.

There’s no doubt our social-economic system is predicated upon convincing consumers they cannot live without consumable products and their lives will be so much the easier, and thus better, for them.

Often cheap is preferable to quality, although there are signs that may be changing. Appealing to the lowest common denominator is also a time-honored marketing tool. And of the six taste buds, sweet and salt—French fries dipped in ketchup—are the ultimate targets for food.

In May, the Denver Post ran a piece on a former talk show host who has experienced critical mental and physical health issues, including excessive weight control. Two little tidbits jumped out at me while reading: During the interview, he was sipping a coke and munching corn chips.

To me that was akin to a smoker with throat cancer sitting next to an oxygen tank puffing a cigarette through the surgically created passage in his/her throat.

What we put into our bodies is reflected in every aspect of our physical and our psychological being. We create addictions to foods no differently than we do to alcohol and drugs, and as it is with those, living in rural areas can put individuals at risk for obesity.

“We often think that because we live in the mountains with the great outdoors all around us, we don’t have to worry about our health,” Clear Creek Public Health Educator Linda Trenbeath tells me.

“However children and adults living in rural and mountainous areas are often home-bound for long winter months, have a shortage of health care providers, have fewer grocery stores offering fresh produce, and have plenty of access to high-calorie, fast-food convenience stores along our major roadways.”

In addition, Linda says what we’re seeing here mirrors the state.

“Our senior population is growing and becoming more sedentary, and the number of children living in poverty has increased.”

Statistics show the percentage of overweight youth has doubled since 1970; 56 percent of Colorado high school students fail to exercise the minimum suggested amount; 92 percent do not eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables; and 57 percent fail to eat the recommended amount of fruit.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans annually die from causes related to poor diet and lack of exercise costing us billions of dollars. It is estimated that preventable illnesses make up 70 percent of the costs. In Colorado alone, annual obesity-related medical expenditures nudges 1 billion dollars.

“It takes some awareness and education,” says Linda, “but I think we could make an effort to get five a day—that’s five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. If your weekly grocery list includes soda pop, chips, snack and convenience foods, you won’t have money to buy veggies and fruits.”

Consider it food for thought.

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