So the obesity epidemic is not news to anyone, but this week it seems everywhere I turn there is more data, more commentary and more perspective on what we need to do to fix it. To name a few, American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study projecting that at the current rate of growth (no pun intended), 43% of American’s will be obese by 2030. 2030?! Almost half of our population will be obese in just over 15 years – this is soon, people.
In other news, HBO is airing a documentary, Weight of the Nation, which began last night. It’s part of a broader partnership with the CDC, NIH and IOM, to take on the issue through a community-based outreach program, including a two-day conference this week in Washington with the same name. In other news, the cover of Newsweek featured a baby holding a box of French fries, exclaiming, “when I grow up, I am going to weigh 300 pounds.” It seems we are literally surrounded by the obesity problem, but, still, people don’t seem to be shedding those extra pounds.
I guess the good news is that people are talking more about the problem. And the conversation across most media seems to focus more on prevention when it comes to obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease. This is crucial if we are to actually change our current trajectory, as the ties between obesity and disease are well documented and a growing burden on our healthcare system and its resources.
But I think, we need to do more than talk about the problem. We need to teach people how to be successful (long-term) with a solution. It’s going to take a combination of factors, including regulatory and legislative action, to move the needle. But a fundamental piece of this has to be education. Gary Taubes writes in the Newsweek piece – and to a point, I agree – “it is not because we’re not listening, and not because we just can’t say no, but because these efforts are not addressing the fundamental cause of the problem.”
Ultimately I think a lot of consumers want to eat the right thing, but there are so many messages out there with completely conflicting advice, it’s hard to separate food fact from fiction. Sure, there are those that believe food is a personal choice and they are going to eat foods that they know are bad for you in large quantities until the day that they die. But I think there are so many more people that genuinely want to eat the right things, but they just can’t get super clear on what those are. Phrases like, “I’ve been eating healthy but I just can’t lose the weight,” or “is xxx good for you?” are part of our daily lexicon, and a signal to me that so many of us simply don’t understand what we should be eating. In an age of increased transparency and information sharing, people want to understand what’s in their food…and more importantly, why.
So, it’s great we are getting serious about talking about the problem, but let’s give people some of the tools they need to fix it; let’s start with education.