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An Englishman In New York: Obesity Epidemic

...I can honestly say there were no fat kids in our class. Why would there be; we walked to school, played football in the school yard, and had gym and swimming classes once a week, along with football/rugby for 2 hours...

Columnist David Thamasesson points a healthily lean finger at the bloated, over-eating Western world.

It was reported in Britain last year that children’s playground slides and clothes are expanding in-line with waist-lines. Apparently the width of slides had increased a staggering 50% due to the average increase in 2 to 8 year old waists of about four inches, which, taken with the increase in obesity over the last decade results in 30% of British children being classed as overweight.

Don’t know about you, but I dug out my old school class photos, and I can honestly say there were no fat kids in our class. Why would there be; we walked to school, played football in the school yard, and had gym and swimming classes once a week, along with football/rugby for 2 hours.

One woman said her seven-year old daughter wears clothes for a 12 to 13 year old. The mother added “But we shouldn't take it for granted that clothes can keep getting bigger and bigger,''

I think I see the problem here; unless all clothes are elasticised, kids will have a hard time putting them on. So that’s the problem, the clothes not the fat kids. How about changing behaviour, taking responsibility for ones actions? Apparently not.

One leading academic claimed that the current obesity epidemic has nothing to do with modern sedentary lifestyles and is entirely down to eating too much. You get paid for these truisms? In 2010 the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that Professor John Speakman, a biologist working at the University of Aberdeen, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences believes that, despite appearances, overall physical activity levels have remained constant for the last quarter of a century during which time weight levels have rocketed. Average men and women burn between 1380 and 950 calories per day in the 1980s and continue to do so today. But (or should that be Butt?) calorie intake has increased by over a third to average 3,500 calories a day. Directing the University's Energetics Research Group, one of the world's leading groups using doubly labeled water (DLW) to investigate energy expenditure and balance in animals Speakman made many contributions to the development of the DLW method, culminating in a 416 page book entitled "Doubly labeled water: theory and practice" published in 1997 that remains the standard reference work for applications of this methodology in humans and other animals.

Sadly, the application for “other animals” has not been tested rigorously as researchers can’t get them to open the book and read the instructions.

His research also criticizes those who believe increased physical activity can offset obesity, saying that “enormous changes in energy balance are needed...that can only realistically be achieved through changes in diet."

While promoting exercise for health reasons, more worryingly for treadmill joggers and other casual athletes is that one hour of intensive exercise will only use up on average 300 calories, the equivalent of a small sandwich. And we’re talking a British sandwich here, not an American all-you-can-eat Dagwood Special.

At which, all around the world, couch potatoes are heaving themselves out of their sofas, and rejoicing “We told you it wouldn’t work. So piss off while I pour this gallon of ice cream down my neck.''

Here in the US, researchers estimate that the obesity epidemic costs $147 billion a year, or 10% of all medical spending. And there’s more; such spend has doubled in less than 10 years. Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a news conference that "Reversing obesity is not going to be done successfully with individual effort...it will be done successfully as a society." Good luck with that one.

More than 26 per cent of Americans are obese, which means they have a body mass index of 30 or higher. Predictably the highest rates were in the South, Appalachia, and some Plains areas. All of which are likely to have poor access to proper education, and healthy eating choices. One study in Canada even revealed that the risk of heart attacks increases significantly in areas crowded with fast-food joints. Well, there’s a surprise!

A simple example illustrates how difficult it will be for society to change, if it even wants to. How much sugar is there in a standard 12 ounce can of Coke? A lot, and far more than you could possibly think palatable. There are about 40 grams of sugar, or ten teaspoons or 20 sugar cubes; the entire daily recommended intake of sugar for an adult. In. One. Can. Not for nothing is it sometimes called Full Fat Coke, as opposed to the Diet Coke option. Even in Britain construction workers and the like would balk at adding that much to their “Builder's tea”, the nickname for their strong, milky tea with two sugars taken on quick work-breaks.

The results are plain to see; strengthened and wider wheelchairs, hospital beds, gurneys and coffins. In Huntington, West Virginia, a local funeral director advised that sales of XXL wide coffins have tripled, and they have even installed winches and cranes in the funeral parlor as ”we’ve had some pretty good-sized ones lately”. According to him it isn’t dignified to winch someone out of their homes (nor is wallowing in a recliner surely) and so they have to struggle to carry them. And, because hearses aren’t yet wide enough, they have to be transported in cargo vans. In Ohio in 2011 one morbidly obese man had to be cut out of his recliner and his home to be hospitalized.

Anyway the problem may have been solved. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has replaced its “tired out, overly complex” food pyramid (even with a symbolic staircase to encourage regular exercise) with a new healthy eating symbol “My Plate”. Represented by a simple circle My Plate is divided into quadrants that contain fruits, vegetables, protein and grains, along with a top right smaller circle to accommodate the dairy industry lobby.

Robert Post of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion says "There is something really inviting about this familiar setting for meal time." Assuming everyone knows how to use a plate, which is questionable. After all have you seen Americans eating in restaurants? They can’t even use a knife and fork properly. Also scores of children are now confused not knowing where to put the Double Mac ‘N Cheeseburger which has vegetables, protein and grains, even dairy, though not necessarily in the right proportions.

In addition to telling people to drastically reduce salt and continue limiting saturated fats, the most recent set of guidelines asked diners to enjoy food but balance calories by eating less and taking smaller portions. It also suggested making half of your plate fruits and vegetables. You’ve got your work cut out with that one. It’s a fact of life here in the US that the majority of males, for example, can’t stomach a salad or any green vegetables. Check out plates when diners have finished eating.

Anyway, the real reason the food pyramid didn’t work? Mr. and Mrs. Gutbuckets apparently thought that food should be piled onto the plate to look like a pyramid! Such an easy mistake to make. They understand the new symbol much better. But it does taste a lot like cardboard, are we supposed to eat it, is it really that good for me?

Bon Appétit!


Do visit David's mentally invigorating Web site http://www.britoninnewyork.com/


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