The Journal Tribune of Biddeford (Maine), March 28, 2013
As a nation, we’re not eating a healthy diet. The American Way has come to include copious amounts of food -- often of the greasy, fatty variety -- and we’re paying for it with our lives.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control figures from 2009-10, more than 35 percent of U.S. adults were obese, as were about 17 percent of children. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in his visit to Portland March 14, painted the obesity problem as not only a health care crisis but also a threat to national security -- since a country needs healthy soldiers to defend itself. Currently, only 25 percent of people, ages 17-24, are eligible to serve in the armed forces, partly because many are overweight or obese, said Vilsack.
Obesity is clearly a national epidemic, and with it, Type II diabetes, stroke and heart disease are on the rise, along with many other weight-related health issues. The CDC found in 2008 that medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion, and the medical costs for people who were obese were $1,429 higher on average than those of normal weight.
In an effort to turn the tide and promote healthy eating, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is marking National Nutrition Month this March, with a focus on spreading information about informed food choices. This is the 40th anniversary of the campaign, but the American view toward food has remained unfortunately stubborn.
It’s telling that in each of the American Dietetic Association’s surveys since 1991, nearly half of respondents said "yes" to the question, "Are you doing all you can to achieve balanced nutrition and a healthy diet?"
Obviously, our perceptions of our eating habits are way out of line with the reality of what we’re doing to our bodies with our eating and exercise habits, in general.
While we all hear a lot about eating better, it’s tough to understand how to actually implement eating changes in our daily lives. With that in mind, the ADA’s website, eatright.org, offers a multitude of tips for meal planning, reading food labels, cooking, food budgeting and proper portion sizes.
Here’s an easy guideline they suggest: When planning your meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; a quarter with lean protein; and the final quarter with whole grains. Here’s an example: Half a plate of broccoli and orange wedges, a filet of grilled salmon and a serving of brown rice.
Also, at choosemyplate.org, the USDA website for healthy eating, a variety of examples, tips and self-tracking help can be found to make it easier for anyone to make the lifestyle change to healthier eating.
Locally, Southern Maine Medical Center hosted the "My Plate for a Healthy Weight" health fair earlier this month, where visitors could learn about food choices and proper portion sizes -- all of which are much smaller than most people would guess. As well, the fair offered samples of healthy foods such as smoothies and lentil nachos, helping to open people’s eyes and palates to new options beyond the well-known go-tos such as potato chips and candy.
This was a great approach to help people get a taste of healthy eating. Such efforts have worked well at area schools, too, and we hope to see more of them in the future, promoted to an even wider audience.
Efforts to curb obesity in the U.S. are being pursued perhaps most aggressively in New York City, which is known for having banned artificial trans fats in food and compelling chain restaurants to post calorie counts. NYC is now facing legal opposition for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s most recent proposal, to place a 16-ounce size limit on sugary drinks.
Meanwhile, the nationwide requirement for calorie counts to be displayed on menus and vending machines, which was implemented by the 2010 health care law, has been stalled by haggling among industry leaders.
While we don’t agree with restricting people’s access to certain sizes and types of food and drink, we think it’s a great idea to get the calorie information out front and center so people can make informed food decisions, and we hope the FDA law can be implemented soon, even if some compromises are made for certain situations.
That way, even if we can’t change the national perspective on the American diet, we can at least have the information to change ourselves -- and it doesn’t have to mean giving up our favorite foods. In fact, that’s the focus of this year’s ADA campaign, "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day," which stresses that ethnic and personal favorite food choices don’t have to be cut out of your life in order for you to embrace a healthy diet. It’s just a matter of moderation.