Sunday, May 6, 2012

Obesity Crisis in America

By Saeed Qureshi
 One shudders to learn that 61 % American adults are obese or overweight. Overweight is a malady that is less injurious than the obesity which when exceeds the BMI of 30, can cause premature death. Obese people run 50-100 % increased risk of premature death than the normal humans. Every year around 300,000 people die of obesity or excessive fatness. Obesity is the second killer after smoking, which kills 400,000 Americans every year. The cumulative yearly financial loss to United States is staggering $ 117 billion.
The deaths caused by obesity and overweight have doubled since 1980. In children, it has increased three times. It is shocking that children should be suffering from diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems which usually appear in adults or in old age. All these horrifying statistics are mentioned in the Surgeon General’s report, which further says that overweight and obesity threaten the health gains of the American nation.
It is indeed a poignant warning which clearly connotes that the money being spent on health or measures taken in that regard would become futile as the nation would be overtaken by a deadly syndrome of obesity.
Human beings die of starvation, famine, and hunger but seldom because of overeating. These are the bizarre absurdities and paradoxes of humanity that in one part of the world the people die because of famine or mal- nutrition while in other parts they leave this mundane world because they eat more than what they should.
The urge for eating for many people in America has become an obsession or a craze and there are several compelling reasons for that. Not only that the reason for obesity is over eating but also the propensity for heavy intake of junk and fat making food. Such foods are delicious mostly but gradually adversely affect the natural metabolism and body chemistry.
The crudely obese and excessively heavy women and men as well as children are the common sights in America. Some of them walk with great difficulty. They swing left and right and can walk by exerting greater force. They are handicapped by the very food whose main purpose is to sustain life, provide energy and keep the people smart and symmetrical.
It should be understood that the obesity that afflicts most of the Americans is not of hereditary nature in which obesity travels from parents to children and this process goes on. In America there might be such cases of obesity but mostly the obesity prevalent in the American society is from excessive eating, lack of exercise and precedence of leisure over physical activity.
The Surgeon General and other agencies monitoring the national health, outline a host of factors that lead to obesity. These are eating of junk and nutrient-lacking food, excessive watching of Television, lack of physical exercise minimum for at least half of an hour, lack or inadequacy of physical exercise facilities at schools, work, provision of improper food at educational institutions and the shortage of parks for jogging or walking.
The report also underlines the need of educating both adults and children about prevention from obesity and how to take physical exercise and maintain their normal physiques. Besides daily physical activity and taking of nutrient food, breast-feeding by expectant mothers has been pointed out as one single factor that it serves as a natural check against obesity.
No one bothers about the Federal Food Guidelines aimed at preventing the growing obesity. The schools are still giving the same old prescribed and standardized food without realizing the baneful ramification of such a myopic and straitjacket course. The shortage of parks still persists. Moreover, people pressed by the time constraints because of work for earning more money, prefer not going out for walking or jogging.
The security problem in parks and gardens or open places is yet another compelling factor preventing citizens for a stroll in the fresh air and straightening or stretching legs and limbs. The expectant women or those having infants would not like to waste time on breast-feeding for keeping themselves symmetrical and in good physical shape. Breast-feeding by the modern women is considered as an uncultured or obsolete practice. In the first instance the choice of many women trying to look smart is to have foster children than having their own. The question of breath feeding in such cases does not arise.
America is a haven for food franchises. There must be countless varieties of foods, cuisines and culinary recipes offered by these franchisees serving fast food or otherwise. Most of the people are used to eating fast food which normally consists of grilled, roasted or fried chicken, beef, pork, fish served exclusively or in sandwiches or burgers.
Besides Pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, tacos, huge varieties of other cooked foods are also served. It is very convenient to stay in front of a fast food window while sitting in your car, order and get the stuff in a few minutes. This is the usual practice that the people adopt and go by it as a daily routine. The drinks taken with the food, carry lot of sugar in due course, lead to diabetes both in adults and children.
Here in the United States there are innumerable Chinese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese, Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean, African and other countries’ restaurants. As such whatever food is separately available in those countries; in America all these are simultaneously available presenting a mosaic of culinary delicacies.
Fast food is primarily the American food culture. It is exclusively unique to America alone although now it is also spreading to other countries especially McDonalds, Subway etc, which are now becoming universal favorites. The other fast food franchises are also taking a cue from the McDonalds.
The fast food is relished by the Americans, generations after generations. It contains lot of cheese, meat and a good portion of sauces that produce fat in the body. The food served at signature restaurants like Chili’s and Olive Garden, is relatively expensive and therefore can be enjoyed only by a particular section of the society with sizeable income. In such restaurants one may spend many times more than on the fast food.
In these high profile restaurants, the cost depends upon the number of people sharing the food. So the low and modest income sections mostly eat fast food, which is relatively cheaper, does not involve hassle of waiting and at the same time is delicious and can be shared by more people.
This intake of fast food, which becomes a matter of habit over the years, adds fat and other undigested and surplus stuff in the body and ultimately assumes the form of obesity. The overeating of ubiquitously available junk food like chips etc with no physical exercise to burn this heavy load harms the digestive system.
The fast food serves such people who are in a hurry or short of time or money. While going to the office or coming back and at a limited lunchtime the fast food takes a few minutes to pay and five minutes to eat. Thus one is used to this kind of life for days, weeks, months and years. So an adult or a kid who keeps on eating the same cheese, meat, sauce, salad for years naturally start storing this stuff which besides filling the empty belly produces lot of fat. Thus a dangerous process of accumulating fats in the body starts.
Those voracious or compulsive eaters, who eat passionately and with gusto, conserve more fats and protein in their bodies. The body starts ballooning and moving towards overweight and the deleterious obesity.
A good portion of TV and commercial ads is about food and eating-places. These ads highlight in a mouth-watering manner the tasty, juicy and crispy aspects of the food they are advertising. Besides, the size, the quantity, the price and such features like second and the third layer or toppings are hammered in the minds of the viewers to prompt them to prefer their recipes. Naturally one is moved by all these enticing jingles.
The food franchisees can be divided according to their categories, timings and menus. Some are open round the clock while some open in the morning and close in the evening. Some serve only breakfast, and some only soups and salad. Some of them merely sell sandwiches, some of these burgers and pizzas, while other dish out snacks, wings and fried items such as chicken and fish. As such there is a vast array and variety of food for every one, catering for every pocket, and satisfying every taste and temperament.
America, thanks to franchised food looks like a vast display and service center for a limitless variety of food recipes. This fast food culture has become an indispensable feature in the American society. The vying food serving enterprises have their own competition between themselves and therefore the prices of food keeps fluctuating: some time dwindling and some time hiking. The industry of pre -cooked food is always in big profit.
Working for long hours takes it own toll .One tends to either rest at bed or else watch TV for hours. Those who are alone or even couples become habitual of remaining before TV from the time of arrival in the house till the time of going to bed. A majority seldom goes out for a walk or jogs or exercises for either security reasons or simply due to sloth and laziness or fatigue .The junk and rich food in the stomach needs additional physical labor to burn or to digest. The result is fatness.
 Children either stay at the school or at homes. For them there is nothing interesting at home except to watch television. The parents are away at work. Even if they are at home they may also take rest along with their kids. It is reported that 40 per cent population does not do any physical activity for one reason or the other.
On top of that, there is plentiful intake of sweet beverages and other sugar-rich stuff like candies and chocolates. An American adult or adolescent takes sugar many times more than is medically recommended. Sugar needs to be burnt through walking or other kinds of physical labor, games, support or work out, which for obvious reasons no one takes seriously.
Then what results can one expect from such a freakish situation? Not only that the body starts swelling but serious diseases like asthma, diabetes, blood pressure and even cancer start assailing the bodies. It is dismaying and agonizing that 13 % children in America are obese or overweight. Women folk are more obese than men, because they get more leisure time than men do. Equally by remaining for longer time at home they have more chance to eat more.
There is a section of society for whom physical labor or job is an anathema. These people spend their lives on social security. From the social security amount they buy drugs and some food and remain confined in doped state to their residences till the next social security paycheck is due. Now how can such breed of people remain physically fit who even are averse to taking up a job, take the trouble of going out in a park or open place for jogging or short stroll? Thus they develop lethargy. With the lethargy comes overweight and finally obesity. It is a segment of society, which seems lost and isolated from the fellow citizens. The drug addicts either die of loss of weight or overweight. Many among them land in jails.
The most alarming part of this whole sordid saga is that there is very little realization at the official level. Even on the citizenry level, there is scant awareness about an impending disaster of stupendous proportions. That the precious lives are being driven to the valley of death and the living getting obese and developing serious diseases and rendering themselves unable to cope with the stress of life and hard work. It forebodes a very dismal and murky situation for the future of this nation.
No doubt one third of the population is concerned about the growing menace of obesity and overweight but that concern does not help in containing obesity. The nation is getting obese at an alarming rate; while already over 60 % among adults and 13 % of the youth, the flower of the nation, are already physically disfigured or have disproportionate bodies.
Those who have time and money can afford to go to GYMs, SPAs and slimming centers to keep them in good shape. These slimming and physical fitness centers are minting money. Their number is mushrooming. But here the problem is that if one can afford to visit such centers for the whole life and with regularity then obesity can be kept at bay.
But regularity is not possible. After a certain period of time a person has to discontinue for the reasons that his work or office schedule has changed or his domestic or financial circumstances do not allow him to attend the gyms and slimming centers regularly.
The moment they dispense with the exercise, the process of putting up weight starts once again. With the negligence towards this new situation, one reaches the same level of weight on which he had been before the physical exercise. So literally one is back to the square one.
The owners or managers of these slimming or fitness centers are experts of human psyche and aware of the predicament of the overweight people. They have their own services or products to sell. Mindful of the laziness of the people in coming out of their houses or offices and also aware of the fact that apportioning of time for a physical activity was a problem for so many, these slimming centers, of late, instead of physical exercise, have started selling the recipes in shape of drugs which one can use in the comforts and privacy of their houses to get slim pr physically fit. As such, besides physical fitness centers, the slimming clinics have also proliferated.
These clinics make incredible offers bordering on miracles and short terms drugs for reducing the weight. These drugs, medicines or prescriptions whatever, one may call them, are not only expensive but on the whole injurious in the long run. They may contain toxic elements, which burn the extra fat but leave also other harmful side-effects. This is yet an unnatural and artificial way of quick fixing of bulkiness which may work for the time being but turn out to be immensely disadvantageous in the longer run.
That is why instead of lessening the obesity such clinics are making the matters worse and contributing deterioration of the national health. There are better ways of doing things and saving the nation from a total disaster that has started undermining the health of a great nation. What is then the best way out and safe way of doing things?
We know that with most of the people, the obesity is not hereditary. It results from over eating; the eating of junk and fatty foods, spending time in leisure and resting and by ignoring the indispensable physical activity. Most of us may want to reduce their excessive weight by walking or jogging but cannot do so because of time constraints or security reasons. On top of it is the monetary aspect, which may hinder the regular attendance of slim or body fitness centers. Therefore, the time has come that the government will have to intervene with all the seriousness. Laws have to be made to check the growing obesity in the nation.
How can these laws be framed and mandatorily implemented? Let the government; first of all, declare the obesity as a national calamity. Thereafter, it should act fast and with firmness on the enforcement of anti-obesity measures. The first step towards this direction would be to change and then check the food culture as being served for ages in the franchisees and private eateries. The change should be in accordance with the five food guidelines of the federal government with regard to use of various ingredients of food such as grains, meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
These guidelines ordain half of an hour physical activity for every one about five days a week. How this can be implemented? If compliance of these rules were left on the sweet will of the people, the result would remain the same as is evident now. Let these rules be implemented by the authorities with full force in educational institutions, offices and work places also.
 The obese people should, in the first place, not be given jobs until they reduce themselves weight-wise. That would impel them to resort to fitness of their bodies. During the office timings, employer must allocate half an hour for an organized physical activity at the premises to be administered and executed by the experts hired for this purpose.
It should be officially incumbent upon the factory owners or the employers to ensure daily physical activity at their facilities. The health authorities should monitor and check such activities actually taking place. The defaulters or non-compliant employers should be heavily fined. In this way several purposes would be served at the same time one of which is that the working citizens would receive the required labor to maintain the normal weight and ward-off overweight. The slim centers too would get the business and thus they would be happy. While the employees would receive the physical fitness exercise the cost would be borne by the employers.
In educational institutions, the physical training must be made mandatory to be done in the morning before the start of the classes. In colleges the students who come at different times or once or twice in a week to the colleges, should also be mandated to take the physical exercise. For this purpose a physical instructor should be part of the staff to impart such training. Thus the students, also per force, would be able to prevent overweight. It could otherwise be made obligatory for students to not exceed their weight beyond a certain level. Regular weight checks should be administered at schools and colleges.
For jobless and other kind of citizens surviving on social security, it can be made obligatory, that only those would receive the full amount who would look physically normal. For affluent and higher circles of society, the problem should not be acute or a matter of major concern. For obese people among the rich or elite some kind of additional taxation can be introduced which is the best and the most effective way of dealing with their fatness. More parks and jogging tracks are imperative to cater for most of the people to take long walks and if necessary jogging or running fast. Security and protection at such places must be ensured.
The basic problem is that while we are aware of the gravity of the obesity, we have failed to stem it. Perhaps the fundamental reason is that overweight or obesity is treated as a private or personal matter of citizens. The state governments do not want to interfere in such matters considering them as sacrosanct and as an encroachment upon the individual or personal freedom of citizens.
But it needs to be realized that this personal matter has assumed an epidemic proportion pregnant with disastrous ramifications. It is no more a private or personal problem. It is a grave matter of health for the entire nation. It has therefore, got to be tackled on national and on war-footing level. Any half hearted, half-baked measures would fail to produce the desired results. As such a national anti -obesity campaign needs to be mounted
Obesity should be treated an affliction, an abuse or abhorrence to be rid off at once like cancer or infectious diseases. If obesity were not dealt with the urgent attention it needs, sooner or later a big part of the population would enter the domains of disability and inactivity. That would spell doom for the creative faculties of the nation. Who then would work and deliver on such matters in which alacrity and smartness in needed?
There is no gainsaying that the terrorists may not subdue the undaunted spirit of the American nation or cause as high security alerts for us as the obesity would do in the future which is the silent enemy and surreptitious killer. We must not take pride in the self-assurance that we are the most well-fed nation and that this is the only nation where surplus food is a problem and not the shortage of food. Some surplus food goes into trash and the other in the bellies. Let us be austere in our eating habit, which means eating less and eating nutritious food.
By curtailing obesity the cost on national health care would drastically come down. The health care centers and hospitals would be less populated, there would less needs of medicines, less costly equipment for the hospitals to buy and less number of medical staff.
But the most redeeming features would be less fleecing and exploitation by the health insurance companies that have become more like money minting mafias. There could be more oversight and accountability for the overcharging companies, pharmacies and manufacturing of drugs and medicines and equipment.
So the health care budget that now supersedes the defense budget of the United States could be enormously reduced. The money thus saved could be diverted to medical research projects besides enhancing the social security income, expanding the benefits like food stamps and providing housing to the poor sections of society.

1 comment:

  1. well written overview for the community to pay attention before it is too late.