Thursday, August 31, 2006

Almost heaven heaviest, West Virginia

Because you all are astute, informed and well-read, I'm sure you've the seen recent reports about America's obesity problem from the Trust for America's Health. There's a nifty little feature on the website where you can get information about your state, so of course I clicked on West Virginia.

Mountaineers are the third fattest state in the country, measuring obesity as well as obesity and overweight combined. I don't doubt these findings at all. West Virginians looooove their buffet restaurants, fast-food restaurants, Mom-and-Pop diner restaurants. They especially love their hot dogs. The legislature should adopt the hot dog as the state food. You can buy hot dogs just about everywhere around here. [I'm originally from Ohio, where you mostly have to cook them yourselves. I guess boiling a pot of water or throwing a couple franks on the grill is too much effort here.]

The report was funded by the Robert C. Atkins Foundation, the Bauman Foundation and the Benjamin Spencer Fund. Benjamin Spencer founded Trust for America's Health, which is, according to their website, both non-profit and non-partisan. Each of the sponsoring organizations seem to focus on wellness and disease prevention, which I heartily applaud. From the TFAH Mission Statement:

As a nation, we are stuck in a “disease du jour” mentality, which means we lose sight of the bigger picture: building a public health defense that is strong enough to cover us from all points of attack – whether the threats are from a bioterrorist or Mother Nature.

By focusing on PREVENTION, PROTECTION, and COMMUNITIES, TFAH is leading the fight to make disease prevention a national priority, from Capitol Hill to Main Street.

It seems to me – and a caveat here: I didn't read the entire report, only the summary findings for West Virginia – that TFAH's focus is on getting all levels of government to adopt policies that will improve the health of its citizens.

That works so well with alcohol and tobacco, doesn't it?

I'm not saying I have a solution, but I know a thing or two about eating and a thing or three about being fat and a thing or four about being told what I should and shouldn't do. I can't disagree with the report in general, but I wonder, for instance, what government's role should be in helping America go down another notch on its collective belt.

TFAH laments that "most statewide initiatives aimed at the general public are often limited to public information campaigns." Well, really, what else can states do? I suppose we could have a big horn blast us out of bed for a march around the block at 6 a.m., but unless they have the personnel to police us, how many of us would just stick our heads under the pillow until the horn quit blowing?

Okay, that's extreme. Yes, neighborhoods should be designed so traffic doesn't interfere with the ability to get outside and walk or play. My daughter's home is a wonderful example of this, and many people take advantage of it. But it's not compulsory. Schools should offer healthful lunches and should require physical education.

TFAH recommends that the government should "leverage its clout as a major food purchaser to require a greater emphasis on nutritional value as a priority in the bidding process for food contracts, such as in contracting for cafeterias, public-assistance programs, and military meals."

It's hard to argue with that, unless you're a major food lobbyist, who has skills, leverage, clout and money to influence even the most well-intentioned food buyer in Washington, D.C.

As in most things bureaucratic, you have to follow the money. If agricultural subsidies were handed out to tomato and lettuce farmers instead of corn farmers, salads would be a lot more affordable.

This is getting too long. It comes down to this: All I can do is take care of myself. And maybe that's all any of us can do. Until each of us is ready, we'll continue to plop down on the couch after dinner with a bag of chips and a beer, wondering why we don't have the energy to play basketball with the kids.

Except they're playing with the X-Box.


loretta123 said...

The healthy food options at school cafeterias, fast-food restaurants and buffets are frequented the least. Until we stop choosing obesity, we’ll continue to get it. It’s that old insanity thing, right?

Debbi said...

In the fast-food restaurants, the healthy options also are the most expensive. There's than money thing again.

You can get a 330-calorie McDonald's Snack Wrap for 99¢, and probably be hungry an hour later (I haven't tried one), or a meal-sized Asian Grilled Chicken Salad, at 380 calories for $4.99.

I have learned to choose wisely when I go to a buffet (unfortunately, Mr. Shrinking Knitter loves them), but it's not easy resisting the high-calorie selections!

Barbra said...

I really agree with your assessment of WV! Living in WV, I am well aware of the stats of our state and I'm glad we are not #1. I can walk to my local hot dog stand... and it is called "Hillbilly Hot Dogs"; I love it, but I don't go often, usually when I have out of state guests.
As an elementary school physical education teacher, I feel that schools should required daily quality physical education. The daily part will probably never happen, but 30 minutes 3 times a week would be ok. "Quality" is important!!!" Children need to learn the benefits of physical activity. Our slogan is NO KID LEFT ON THEIR BEHIND!!! Hopefully, kids will develop a desire to participate in physical activity on a regular basis and continue as adults.
OK.. I'm jumping off the soap box and taking a walk...

Anonymous said...

What I see in my neck of the woods is TONS of women using "baby weight" as their excuse. They don't bother to lose any of the baby weight from baby numero uno, and so the baby weight from the second kid gets added on, and you have this woman who was once slim, now looking "forever pregnant" dragging one kid to elementary school, and pushing the other in a pram...The kid in the pram has a a supply of fruity juice and some snacks and looks like a little sumo-wrestler. (let's teach them early: Bored? have some snacks!)

I gained a LOT of weight with my first pregnancy, I felt I had a great excuse to eat everything in mass quantities! Well the time came when I had to PAY for that big long food party. The baby was on the outside, so there was no way on earth I could keep looking pregnant and be healthy and active. It was a short but very hard nasty road back to slimness. Oh I was not happy to discover how hard it was to get my figure back. It was torture. I even took night classes at the gym--which I HATED with a passion and pretended to enjoy because I had plunked down cash for them. (judo and boot camp exercise, UGH! ) and it was dark out and I was exhausted... yes it was an ugly, grim road back to slim.
but i learned a lesson- surprise!-next pregnancy I was a lot more careful and ate healthy. I danced around a little, instead of my usual beached whale pose, and losing the baby weight was something I knew I'd HAVE to do, cheerfully this time, for my mental health.
(and without cursing my stupidity every day, it was way easier, too)

All of these people telling us about BAD food. and every excuse under the sun is employed as to why we have to eat badly sometimes, have no time to be healthy. I understand every excuse, at one time or another I nodded YES YES to them.
If I gain 5 lbs now there is that urge to bring out some excuse rather than do what I know is right and good for me. I am not the brightest bulb around, but I know I have a choice. It is the Daily Choice.

sorry this is so long--- but it is so dangerous to hang onto to post pregnancy weight!

---Stretchy ---

jen said...

I think some policies about sidewalks, healthier food in cafeterias, less kid-directed advertising, more time for activity at schools, a new look at what foods are subsidized, etc., can't hurt. Legislation isn't always about people ordering individuals around, sometimes it's a way to help provide support for the people who want to make changes.

Greta said...

There are a few things the government could do that would make a HUGE difference in health:

1. REDUCED SODIUM: legislate reduced sodium in all foods and snacks There should be an upper limit of sodium in packaged food something like 100mg per 100 calories of food. If you assume 2,000 calories a day and a reasonably high level of sodium of 2,000 mg per day, then it comes out to 1 mg sodium per calorie of food. That would still be very generous but it would prevent 200 calorie cans of soup from having 1,400 mg sodium.

2. OUTLAW GROWTH HORMONES: if there's one thing that contributes more to the obesity epidemic than any other single thing it's growth hormones in our meat that mimic the human growth hormone. If you aren't already a vegetarian, you might want to use growth-hormone-free dairy and organic meats.

3. ELIMINATE HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: High frustose corn syrup actually acts like FAT in our cells! That can't be good for a whole lot of reasons, but they already know for sure from studies that calories from sugar register in our bodies as food and we reduce our consumption of other foods when we eat real sugar but that's not true with high-frusctose corn syrup. When we eat high fructose corn syrup we don't adjust our intake of foods downward. Those are calories our body never "sees". It's in all sorts of soft drinks and other sweets.

Debbi said...

Great comments, one and all. I didn't mean to give the impression that I am against government intervention in health policy, if, indeed, I did. In fact, I'm actively working with a group that advocates for a drastic change in healthcare delivery in this country. My skepticism is fueled by the fact that we humans have free will and are rebellious in nature.

Well, I am, anyway!

Anyway ... in my work, I write to my legislators at both the state and federal levels to share my thoughts, ideas, opinions and goals for my country's health with them. I challenge you to do the same.

I could – and probably will – write more about this next week. Thanks again for the "food" for thought.