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Food - Groceries
Written by Ahmed Amr   
Thursday, 10 December 2009 09:11
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With all the talk about healthcare in Washington, few people are willing to discuss one of the factors driving up costs nationwide: Americans are fat.  Which is odd because even President Barack Obama noted in his campaign that if we returned to the obesity levels of 1980 it would save Medicare $1 trillion.  According to a recently published study in the New England Journal of Medicine, in ten years, half the nation will be obese.  I don’t know why anyone is surprised, you can pretty much watch the pedestrian traffic on any corner in America and arrive at the same conclusion.  Given that up to 15% of all deaths are linked to being fat, you'd think there would be more of an outcry over it.

At the risk of ruffling some feathers, I’m going to make this very simple - half of us are obese because we eat too much. That’s usually what it takes to develop a certain girth. I’d make certain allowances for those with hereditary medical conditions but, beyond that, it really comes down to the excess calories that we take in.  Like it or not, excess weight is simply the accumulation of far more calories taken in then expended through normal metabolism and exercise.  And we are getting fatter at an alarming rate - obesity has skyrocketed 48% over the last 15 years.  If you want a really powerful image, find any old pictures of people at the beach from the sixties and seventies and compare them to a recent one.  It's as if you were looking at a different species.

Now not everything in the Journal study was negative, it did report that smoking rates have dropped by 20% over the last fifteen years. The sad thing is that our increasing bulk will nearly wipe out all the medical gains from our drop in smoking.  Some people will attribute the decline in smoking rates to the anti-smoking campaigns and laws that ban smoking everywhere all the time. How many “no smoking” signs do you see plastered everywhere? You can’t even smoke in a bar anymore. Now compare that to the number of  “no over-eating” signs you come across. Maybe it’s time for the FDA to mandate warning labels on certain foods - “eating this will kill you - keep away from children.”

But aside from the general awareness about the haphazards of smoking, I think the major reason that smoking rates have plummeted is the astronomical rise in the price of a pack of cigarettes. It can run you as much as eight bucks in places like New York. That’s almost half a buck every time you light up.  A lot of that money is local and federal taxes meant to penalize smokers for increasing the nation’s health care costs.

I remember buying a carton of cigarettes for two dollars in North Carolina. Now that was thirty years ago and it was tobacco country; but even so - it’s still punitive to pay 40 cents for the same nicotine stick you could have scored for two pennies back when the Marlboro Man could advertise his product on milk cartons.

No matter how addicted they are, there is a breaking point at which people just won’t pay for a product. Some people kicked the smoking habit at two bucks. Others persevered until they were obliged to let go of a five dollar bill for their daily fix.  The pivotal moment in the life of every smoker will come when the price of a pack goes to ten dollars. That’s when you’ll see die-hard smokers moving to Thailand to trim the expense of their $600 a month habit.

The problem with food in America is that it’s cheap relative to income, it’s available everywhere all the time, nobody tries to stop you from eating it, and the government doesn’t impose punitive taxes on those who over-indulge. You can publicly sneer at a smoker but you have to pretend not to notice the perfectly rotund guy snacking on a leg of lamb. We treat smokers like lepers but there is no social stigma to over-eating.

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Audrey  - Want cheap healthcare? |2010-07-01 02:07:30
Science shows that stress can raise cortisol levels, thereby causing weight retention (or gain). So, when you hassle fatty, s/he gets stressed - and stays fat.
Also, going to the doctor regularly is no picnic either, when you're fat:
SO, being discriminated against keeps some fat people from going to the doctor to get regular checkups- so, when they do go to the doctor, it's much more serious, and much more expensive.
Get rid of the bias, and we'll have cheaper health care.
There is a popular belief about fat, called "Personal Responsibility", and you have bought into it completely. It means - "that person is responsible for their health, and being fat isn't healthy, so they deserve what they get". It's justification for hate - fat people aren't viewed as healthy (over 100 years ago, they WERE), so now there is a reason for them to deserve ridicule.
I am a fat person - I'm 5'6", and 220lbs. I'm a size 18. I eat organic. I get my veggies, and adore fruit. I exercise. I don't overeat - but I don't deny myself an ice cream or cookie now and then. My blood pressure is good. My lipid profile is stellar - and my metabolic profile? Well within normal levels.
I'm fat because that's who I am - it's my body. No amount of exercise or dieting or water-drinking is going to make me thin and keep me that way. The only ailment I have? Knee and back problems - from injury when I was in the Marine Corps, and I WAS THIN.
But I didn't stay that way. Not because I ate too much, or didn't exercise enough. All that yo-yo dieting made me miserable and fatter - and when I finally settled around 220, I was thankful for having a STABLE weight, which I have never had in my adult life.
It's terrific for you to quote flawed research and gloat from upon your high horse. It's possible to be fat and healthy - I'm living proof.
frugal nomad  - Fat is beautiful |2010-07-01 06:36:59
Audrey, there is a difference between being fat and being obese. 5'6 and 220 pounds is more voluptous than obese and some women can carry 220 pounds very well and be as healthy and attractive as any woman under 140 pounds. To use a pun, the word fat carries a lot of weight and it can obviously be taken the wrong way.

Having said that, there is a problem with obesity in America and it's something that deserves attention and education. There is something to be said about statistics. They give us some general idea of trends and the trends in obesity are a warning sign that many Americans are not paying enough attention to their diets.

If you feel good about yourself and if you're taking care of yourself, I say more power to you.

You said it all in your last sentence "it's possible to be fat and healthy." That's not a point that any of us would argue. But it's very probable that fighting obesity will improve the health and reduce the health care costs of most Americans.

Omiewon |2010-07-01 09:16:33
I think there are all sorts of individual circumstances and sure, there are some people that are overweight for various reasons that have less to do with over-consumption.

But we have to be realistic with ourselves, this country has a massive problem with weight and much of it does come down to eating choices. The fact is, that as a country we do consumer more sugar, fats, and calories per capita than any other country in the world. In 2003, we ate an average of 3754 calories a day, more than any other nation.

We are consuming fast food meals with 1,500 calories and some people are going Super Size to put it over 2,000.

Obesity in America is seriously starting to have a major impact on the quality of life and it's just the beginning. Kids today are heavier than ever. Every day I see kids walking to the middle school and I would say that 40% of them are already noticeably heavy. 20 years ago, maybe 10% were.

In every case, someone can give good reasons why they are overweight, and many times justifiably, but as a whole the County needs to own this problem and work towards a solution without pointing fingers.

gefingerpoken |2010-05-16 22:04:14
I see what you're saying, but it sounds like you're advocating a sin tax to force people to eat less.

Trying to shame or punish people into losing weight is just about the worst thing you can do. For one thing, it won't work. For another, it's insulting. The fact that you think there's no social stigma to over-eating or being overweight shows how little perspective you actually have.

Most fat people know that they are fat, and they know why. Ignorance isn't their problem, and explaining their fatness to them is both unnecessary and counterproductive.
AM  - It's not the that simple at all... |2010-05-05 15:48:05
I'm going to have to take you to task for assuming that food has no physically addictive qualities (Sorry about that.) *grin*

Carbohydrate based food mostly certainly does have addictive qualities. It creates highs and lows in a manner very similar to other drugs thanks to the insulin spikes. Some of us (me) are literally wired to seek out that experience. (Remember that in survival in the "wild", gaining fat through endless eating of fruit, etc is actually a *positive* trait.) I now eat a low carb diet specifically to stabilize insulin levels and avoid the physical side of food addiction.

The government has not helped food addictions problems. By pushing grains as a "base" food and demonizing fat has helped create the obesity problem. The next time you go shopping, notice how many obese people pick up diet colas (addictive and create hunger) and low fat foods (sugar replaces the fat, no saving in calories and creates hunger). They *are* trying but generally over eat thanks to the mixed signals their body produces.

People have to learn to embrace whole foods that are the part of our hunter gather past. (meat, vegetables, fruit) We have no time to cook, but we know what to eat and how to exercise. It's made all the difference in the world.
frugal nomad  - I stand corrected |2010-05-05 16:27:15
Thanks for the feedback. I'v been hearing a lot from people lately about how diet soda drinks don't help as much as people assume. One thing that stuck with me is that they bloat the stomach so it takes more food to fill you up. I definitely agree that more fruit and vegetables can go a long way to maintaining a healthy balanced diet.
Omiewon  - First Hand Experience |2010-05-05 21:30:02
I don't know if food is as addicting as drugs but I can say that when I gave up sugars and corn syrup earlier this year, I had little desire to eat massive portions of food. I just simply had no urge. Dropped 15 pounds in 45 days just by getting rid of the sugar.

So there is something there and I think that the point on pushing carbs is true but it comes from the massive amount of corn that this country produces. Corn is in everything and it's not particularly good for you in the forms it comes in.
But honestly, giving up sugars was hard for a couple days then it was no big deal. I've seen people take months or longer to get off cigarettes.
Nazy Meighan  - Cost of being obese |2010-04-08 08:42:46
While I do agree that losing weight would lower healthcare, and food is cheap, where the problem lies is in time. If there was time to get all these things done we would all be more weight conscious. If Americans didn't spend so much time in front of the TV and outside getting some kind of exercise in then we'd be a thinner society. If parents spent more time with their kids playing tag or free catch instead of having the TV or video games babysit them then those young Americans will learn to be more active. If moms and dads didn't have to work longer hours in the office then they an be home to cook a healthy home-cooked meal instead of ordering fastfood for dinner every night. Therein lies the problem... families not being able to have time to get the healthy habits under control or setup. Its not that people don't want to be healthy, its where can we find the time to be healthy if we are all trying to survive in the ratrace? I'm a single mom myself and I barely find the time to come home and fix a healthy home cooked meal. The food is there but who will make it. It does become easier to just pull out a box of frozen chicken nuggets for 2 hungry kids than bake or grill chicken breast with vegetables.
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