It has become common knowledge that obesity is a problem in North America. The newspapers, magazines, television commercials and internet banners all acknowledge the issue. It is not uncommon to see advertisements encouraging membership in diet programs where you can lose those extra pounds in a short time. Marketers have even responded by providing 90-100 calorie pre-packaged snacks ranging from almonds to cookies. Others are telling us to walk it off, and some are encouraging the latest fad diet. It seems that everywhere we look there is someone, somewhere trying to fix our personal weight problem.
Is obesity an issue?
Yes, in more ways than we can imagine. It is not simply a matter of having extra weight. Being overweight or obese triggers many health related situations.
Obese Canadians are 4 times more likely to have diabetes, 3.3 times more likely to have high blood pressure and 56% more likely to have heart disease than those that have healthy weights (1). Throughout North America there are reports relating obesity to heart disease, and diabetes. There are other symptoms that are often ignored by the media but are also troubling. I personally know a lady who experienced severe pain in her feet. The extra 60 pounds she had gained caused a problem with her arches, her feet became “flat” and normal daily activities became a burden. These types of poor health symptoms affect everyone in our communities. Government run health programs become more expensive to operate, families struggle with the emotional side of disease, un-wellness and even death.
Surely you have heard that the rate of overweight and obesity are on the rise. Currently 30.6% of Americans (US), 24.2% of Mexicans and 14.3% of Canadians are obese (2). Compare these rates to those of Japan and South Korea where obesity is only at 3.2% of the population (2). That should trigger two things in your mind. First of all, something that we are doing in North America is causing great negative effects on our optimal health. Second, if there are other nations in the world with lower rates of obesity, then obesity can be controlled in North America as well.
Is there any pattern to obesity in North America?
The acknowledgment of obesity, income levels, sense of failure and lack of physical activities are patterns associated with obesity. Sharon Brady, editor of The World is a Kitchen, believes that the first problem to obesity is that a large portion of individuals are simply not facing the fact that they are overweight whether it is through ignorance, denial or indifference (3). Obesity is also disproportionally found in lower income groups (4). This may be a consequence of buying low nutrient, highly processed foods because of the low dollar values. Another possible problem with weight gain and obesity is the sense of failure that comes with cheating or falling off fad diets. A lack of physical activity or even decreased activities levels associated with changes in lifestyle can also be problematic patterns.
How can we fix the problem of obesity?
Dealing with the way we think about food and our body weight is critical. Information on the mind-body connection is readily available. Understanding and addressing mental and emotional stress is of paramount importance when you want to lose weight (5).