Posts Tagged ‘Junk Food’
Should carrying extra weight be judged as a matter of personal failure? Considering the fact that two thirds of Americans are now diagnosed as overweight and one third as obese, it feels strange that there should be any prejudices against body fat. And yet, stigmatizing heavyset people is more common and seemingly acceptable than any other form of discrimination left on the planet.
Women in particular are routinely targeted for their appearances. Their ‘imperfect’ bodies can keep them from advancing in their careers (if they can get lucrative jobs in the first place), from getting married or finding partners, even from receiving proper healthcare.
Overweight itself is widely seen as a problem. Obesity is now officially called a disease. But people who are afflicted by it are not treated like other patients who, for example, have cancer or heart disease. Presumably, they brought their ailments upon themselves – by their self-indulging, undisciplined and irresponsible behavior. That makes them easy prey.
The reasons why body weight is so often looked upon as a moral rather than a health matter are complex and not easily understood. In my own practice as a dietitian, the topic comes up frequently by clients who despair more over their looks than what is happening to them health wise. In fact, many accept some of the discriminatory messages they receive in person or in the media as ‘truth.’
Sadly, when it comes to weight issues, moral judgment is never far away. Not by accident, love for food, a.k.a. gluttony, is listed in Christian religious teaching as one of the seven cardinal sins. With such labeling, eating behavior becomes a matter of right and wrong, of good and evil. And because weight control can take effort and struggle, those who fail at it or don’t try hard enough are then viewed as losers or slackers who don’t put in the necessary work, and should be called out for it.
In reality, there are countless causes for unhealthy weight gain. Lack of self-control is not the most common. Traumatic childhood experiences, poor self esteem and body image – resulting in all kinds of eating disorders, genetic predispositions, lack of access to quality food, among many other possibilities, are much more decisive factors in overeating.
The worldwide obesity crisis we are facing today is not the product of personal failure. Overweight people don’t just overindulge because they cannot resist their urges. The undeniable fact is that much of our food supply – especially the cheap, fast, and highly processed kind – is harming us. Period.
Moreover, most consumers are basically illiterate when it comes to nutrition. Nobody teaches them how to eat right – not in schools, not at the workplace, or anywhere else, and certainly not in ways that are commonly understandable and actionable.
To the contrary: Lunches in many public schools remain of poor nutritional quality, kids are constantly bombarded with junk food and soda ads, and low-income families struggle to put half-decent meals on the table.
These are structural, not personal failures. Here is where the root of the ‘evil’ lies. As long as these issues are not addressed, no moralizing about weight has a place.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”
The summer months should be a time when children are especially active, play sports, enjoy the outdoors, and perhaps even eat better because there are more occasions for family dinners. In other words, it should be a time when they are their healthiest. Not so, a new study found. In fact, it is during school vacations that many kids put on extra pounds, according to scientists from Harvard University who took a closer look at the phenomenon.
For their research, they analyzed several studies on weight gain among children ages 5 to 17, and found on average a faster rate of weight increase during vacation times compared to the rest of the school year.
Most vulnerable were youngsters who already struggled with weight issues. Their weight accelerated the fastest while they were out of school.
Obviously, there are no simple answers to why this is happening, said Rebecca Franckle, a doctoral student and research assistant at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report, to HealthDay Reporter.
It’s possible that children have more opportunities to be sedentary while they stay at home. Especially kids who live in unsafe neighborhoods may be spending more time watching TV or playing video games. Or perhaps, it’s a lack of structure when they are not having classes and other activities, and they get bored, passing the time with snacking. Lack of supervision in the daytime hours may also play a role.
The researchers noted that weight gain took place more predominantly among poor minority children.
“There may be a trend in increased rate of weight gain during summer school vacation, particularly for high-risk groups, including certain racial/ethnic populations and overweight children and adolescents,” wrote Ms. Franckle in her report.
Although the nutritional quality of school breakfasts and lunches has often been the target of criticism, for many poor children those are the only substantial meals available to them all day. During vacations, that security net is absent. Fast food and snack items are oftentimes the only alternatives, which, of course, is detrimental to their health.
Without greater access to recreational facilities, physical activity programs, and summer food programs, the resulting weight gain may further exacerbate health disparities between poor children and their better-off peers, Ms. Franckle suggested.
The effects of these trends are serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates have more than doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents in the United States over the past 30 years. One third of children and teenagers are now overweight or obese.
Recent studies found that serious health complications can come from weight problems at young ages, including diabetes, heart disease, and liver damage. It will take enormous efforts on behalf of the youngest victims of the obesity crisis to turn these developments around.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).