Obesity in America has surpassed its previous title of being a problem and is now categorized as a full-blown epidemic. According to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects a staggering 93.3 million adults in the U.S., and 13.7 million adolescents and children — including some as young as two years old.
Despite pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into public health education programs, the shocking and distressing question looms: what went wrong with the once globally heralded and emulated — and now toxic and in some cases fatal — American diet?
According to Dr. Jan McBarron — an acclaimed and award-winning physician who championed the practice of non-surgical weight loss in the U.S. — it boils down to three root causes: unrealistic body image expectations, portion inflation, and sedentary lifestyles. Each of these factors is briefly highlighted below.
Unrealistic Body Expectations
While it’s obviously too simplistic to pin the blame for American’s obesity epidemic on Barbie-maker Mattel, the toy company serves as a symbol for the kind of jarringly unrealistic, alarmingly unhealthy and for most people, outright unattainable idealized body image that the vast majority of people have etched into their conscious and subconscious minds. Aside from the day-to-day misery and psychological trauma this causes, it compels many people from all walks of life to go on scientifically baseless, fad and hype-driven diet programs that not only fail to achieve weight loss goals, but end up adding weight as unhappy dieters ultimately (and through no fault of their own) swing back to old eating patterns and familiar, calorie and trans-fat laden comfort foods.
Jan McBarron states that as a nation, we have lost sight of the fact that dieting alone is not the answer. Instead, the focus needs to be placed on nutrition and not just about eliminating certain foods. It is about replacing unhealthy choices with smarter, more deliberate and more nourishing choices. We need to pay less attention to whether we look like a celebrity or some idealistic and unattainable notion of fitness or beauty, and pay more attention to how we truly feel, and how much energy we have to enjoy life.
Dating back to the 1950s and 60s, the standard portion size was significantly smaller than that of what we are accustomed to in modern times. Starting in the 1970s and triggered by government subsidies for farmers to grow more food, portion sizes (and hence, profits) started to grow, and grow and grow. Predictably this triggered a series of events which influenced the size of appetites, customer expectations, and ultimately the waist size of consumers.
Most people will consume what is on their plate, or if they head to a fast food restaurant, what’s on their tray. But does that represent how much they should be eating, which is based on what their individual body requires? According to Jan McBarron typically, the answer is no — and not because they’re eating too little, but because they’re eating too much. This issue is escalating further thanks to all-you-can-eat buffets and discounted meals at fast food establishments. Most people aren’t eating all they can eat rather they are eating far more than they can eat, or that is, they should eat — and unsurprisingly to many it is taking a significant toll on weight and overall health. We once used a serving spoon, we replaced it with a ladle. The result is what Dr. McBarron calls “Portion Distortion”.
Last but certainly not least, an unprecedented — and alarming — number of Americans of all ages, from toddlers to seniors, are living sedentary lifestyles all in the name of convenience. We exert as little energy as possible with things like remote controls, moving sidewalks, escalators and more. There are even recliners now with a mini cooler in the arm- for those too lazy to get up to go to the refrigerator. While this is initially comfortable, it’s inevitably counter-productive; and in many cases, contributes to a range of preventable and even fatal diseases.
We’ve all heard that sitting for extended periods of time is the new smoking, and the risks can be even more catastrophic for obese people, who are trapped in a vicious cycle. Their excess weight impedes or dissuades them from being active, which further exacerbates their obesity. It is now called “Sits Disease”. Dr. Jan McBarron shares that the way out of this loop is for people to speak with their doctor, who in turn may refer them to a nutritionist, dietician, or other credible, experienced, and compassionate health care professional who will work with them to build a customized and medically-appropriate plan that includes both exercise and eating.