Why Won't We Eat Our Veggies?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012 - 04:00 AM

Eggs (Gideon/flickr)

America is fat. Skinny people are now the minority and even those of us who are not obese could stand to lose a few pounds. Here are the statistics that are scaring public health officials: More than one-third of American adults and about 12.5 million kids younger than 19 are obese. Obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. And fat is very expensive: In 2008, medical costs related to obesity were about $147 billion; and medical costs paid by insurers were about $1,429 higher for the obese than for normal weight people.

This is not a new problem; Americans have been gaining weight for years. There's been great reporting on the issue and there are endless warnings from doctors, so why aren't we scared skinny? For some, this is a micro-sociological problem. Food deserts, especially in urban areas, mean low-income people can't get fresh vegetables and fruit and are reduced to picking up hot dogs and chips from the closest 7-Eleven. And there's plenty of blame for the food industry as well. They pump fat, salt, and sugar into our burgers and even our grilled chicken hoping to entice us to eat even when we're not hungry. They even process the meat, pounding out the tough fibers, making it easier to chew so we'll eat it quickly and buy more before we realize that we're full. All of this is true, by the way, there's no disputing the excellent research that's been done in recent years.

But this is not the tobacco scandal — no one is going to win a multimillion dollar settlement against the Cheesecake Factory claiming they didn't know the 2,500 calorie Pasta Carbonara was unhealthy. When you eat a supersize burger and fries, you know you're not eating well, and you know that making that choice on a regular basis will have detrimental effects on your health. And yet, we still make the choices that our children make — dessert before dinner, dessert as dinner. Some people will go for days on end without consuming a single serving of fresh vegetables, though not because the veggies weren't available.

So here is the dilemma: We know the food is bad and we know bad food can eventually kill us — but we still choose the bad food over good. That's what makes the obesity epidemic so much harder to solve than polio. There's no vaccine against obesity. And there is no final cure; a patient who loses a hundred pounds after lap band surgery could gain it all back years later. The prescription for treatment isn't a pill but a nutrition plan. And you don't take it once a day with food, you have to make the right decision 20 times a day about food.

I realize this is an odd thing for a journalist to say, but the solution is not more information. We have all the information we need. We know french fries make us fat, we know the serving size for Oreos is two cookies, not 12.  We also know that sitting at our desks all day, then going home and sitting in front of the television all evening isn't healthy. We do it anyway. We eat the Big Mac in spite of what we know, or suspect, about its ingredients.

The problem, dear neighbor, is not in the stars, but in ourselves. And that means we also have the solution.

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Comments [5]

JerryLA from New Hampshire, USA

Lastly, doctors and medial should give equal time on prevention as drugs. Inform people about the risks of red meat and colon cancer not just colonoscopy, saturated fats (meat, cheese) and heart disease not just statins, dairy and breast cancer not just genetics, animal protein vs. vegetable protein on bone fractures not just bisphonates, low folate and high homocysteine promotes alzheimer's, ... on and on. People's choice. If they want to smoke, make sure they know twice as many smokers died of heart disease as non-smokers in the Framingham Heart Study. It's not just lung cancer. Just because some people won't change life style doesn not mean the important information should be withheld from the rest of us.

Government's role? Certainly don't provide unhealthy foods for school lunches and Indian reservations. My opinion, don't subsidize tobacco farms either.

Jul. 18 2012 02:57 PM
Jerry LA from New Hampshire, USA

While I'm on a roll about plant based foods, there's much advertising about various drugs, chemo, radiation, surgery, mammograms for breast cancer. There should be equal time on prevention, example worldwide eminent prof. Jane Plant CBE "The No Dairy Breast Cancer Prevention Program". 17 years ago she was dying of breast cancer. Several surgeries, radiation, chemo weren't working. Suddenly she and her scientist husband suddenly remembered rural Chinese don't get breast cancer. "Rich Woman's Disease" they said. They don't do dairy and little meat. Jane was eating yogurt to replace probiotics in her system after chemo. She stopped all dairy, her most accessible tumor, in her neck, immediately got smaller and disappeared. Much more in her book.

Jul. 18 2012 02:36 PM
JerryLA from New Hampshire, USA

People just aren't informed by the media. There's much advertising for bisphonates but did you know "A high ration of vegetable to animal protein consumption was found to be impressively associated with a virtual disappearance of bone fractures." Frassetto et. al. J. Gerontology 55 (2000) M585-M592. A more easily accessible source with graph is pages 206-209 of "The China Study" by prof. T. Colin Campbell. Medical news should spend at least as much time on prevention as on "prescription drugs" $$, Now if people are informed and still want to chow down on foods known to contribute to health problems, they should at least be told the consequences.

Jul. 18 2012 02:20 PM
JerryLA from New Hampshire, USA

The Medical industry and Food Inc. do a lot to suppress information about diet. For example, there's a lot of news about $$$ Alzheimer's drug(s). We think in the same articles the media should give equal time to prevention ",,,the risk of getting (Alzheimer's) was 3.3 times lower among people whose blood folic levels were in the lowest one-third raange and 4.5 times greater when blood homocystine levels were in the highest one-third." page 221 in the book "The China Study" (2006) by Cornell nutritional biochemist prof. T. Colin Campbell, bookstores & Amazon. The combination of a diet high in plant-based foods and low in animal-based foods strongly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Jul. 18 2012 02:10 PM

Remember when Justice Scalia said "‘You can make people buy broccoli’ and it was considered an absurd joke and not a policy suggestion to impose on people for their own good?

Amazing how people can be trusted to vote for President but cannot be trusted to eat what they choose for themselves and their family.

Jul. 05 2012 05:44 PM

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