It is no secret that America has the highest obesity rates in the world. It is well known that obesity leads to many serious health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, musculoskeletal complaints, impaired functional status and depression. Americans are more educated and more advanced technologically than we ever have been in the past yet, we are living in a nation where 30% of girls and 40% of boys born after 2000 are expected to develop diabetes as a result of obesity.
How have we managed this? To begin, we started growing foods with the sole intention of producing the highest amount of yields and of making the most money. We started treating food production as a food industry. All-natural foods are no longer the norm and instead, artificial foods flood our grocery stores. We have stopped eating actual foods and have started consuming food-like products. This industrialization of our food systems has lead to obesity. The issue of obesity boils down to a fundamental aspect of being human. In nature, foods that are high in energy such as sugars and fats are extremely rare but are crucial to human survival. Because of this, our brains have evolved to crave these types of food and eat as much of it as possible with the assumption that it will be a long time before finding them again. Fast-forward to today, our methods of acquiring fatty and sugary foods has progressed greatly and unfortunately, evolution hasn’t been able to catch up in order to reprogram our brains to stop desiring these energy-rich foods. This leads us to a large percentage of the population with obesity and the grueling problem of how to solve it.
One of the major changes we need to make is to our education system. Although the public school system has made great progress in recent years, it is crucial that we continue to incorporate healthy food education into our classrooms. It is also critical that we save and reinstall recess and physical education classes. Students spend the majority of their day in class and need those allotted times in order to get their recommended dose of physical activity each day.
A fundamental issue that many Americans face when it comes to feeding themselves and their families is that they can not afford healthy, fresh foods as they are priced today. Unfortunately, it is much more convenient and cheaper to buy a meal for your family at McDonald’s than to buy food from a grocery store to prepare at home. We need our government to stop subsidizing processed foods and to start subsidizing organic, healthy foods.
Along with price, availability is a major factor in the food choices Americans make. Many communities do not have grocery stores, let alone healthy grocery stores. In fact, 23.5 million Americans, most of which are poor, Hispanic, and/or African American, live in “food deserts” or communities without grocery stores. For many, what is found at the corner bodega is what he/she and his/her family are going to eat for dinner that night. We must demand food equality from our government. Supermarkets within walking distance, stocked with fresh, healthy food will encourage healthy diets. It may also encourage physical activity by creating walk-able destinations.
In the United States, agricultural land is quickly being sold and developed. Farmland is typically ideal for developers; it is flat land with well-drained soils. It is also fairly easy to find a farmer that is willing to sell. As a result of the industrialization of our food systems, many farmers have felt the need to expand their farms in order to keep up with the increasing demand of the market. In order to do this, farmers had no choice but to invest in large, expensive machinery. Unfortunately, this has left many farmers in debt. When a developer comes along offering top dollar to a farmer in debt, it usually takes no time before accepting. As a result, American farms are disappearing. For this issue, we must turn to our Zoning Laws. We need to back up the preservation of agricultural land with zoning laws and we need our government to subsidize farmers even more.
Obesity is a quickly growing problem that needs the cooperation of many in order to be solved. The solution won’t happen over night, but it is solvable. With the help from increased food-education in schools, the government subsidizing of farmers and healthy foods, and an increase in the number of accessible supermarkets, we will have a fighting chance.
Dannenberg, Andrew L., Howard Frumkin, and Richard Jackson. Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: Island, 2011. Print.
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Movie, 2008.