If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.
Sadly, it’s just not that simple. As stated this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, “The dramatic increase in obesity among Americans over the past three decades has taken a major toll on our society, and progress toward curbing the epidemic has been minimal. Two thirds of adults and nearly one third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, and many public health experts are worried that we are not solving the problem quickly enough.”
These are frightening statistics. And news like this seems to be appearing with increasing frequency. Especially alarming is the impact overeating and a lack of exercise is having on children. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors including cardiovascular disease, prediabetes and bone and joint problems. And sadly, children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. It’s a damaging cycle that needs to stop.
As if the impact this disease has on the health of our population wasn’t enough, the economic consequences are overwhelming. The CDC estimates that, in 2008 dollars, these costs totaled about $147 billion. Medical costs associated with obesity may include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services. Tack on morbidity costs including income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, etc. and it becomes understandable how these costs continue to spiral out of control.
Thankfully, there is a tremendous amount of effort being made to address our obesity epidemic. There is an increased focus throughout the country on healthy eating and the importance of exercise. Even the First Lady is bringing attention to the issue through her support of Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization “devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis.”
What can we do as individuals? I discuss nutrition and physical exercise at length in Sustainable Wellness. While my book features a number of tips on what to eat and what not to eat and provides suggestions about exercise habits, I think it’s equally important to raise our consciousness about why we eat and focus mindful awareness on how we incorporate body movements into our daily lives. Just telling people to eat less and exercise more is not going to solve the problem. We need to be supportive, to applaud small adjustments, and be gentle with ourselves.