This article was first posted on LinkedIn on December 3, 2012.
A friend forwarded me a link to this slide show (it's at the bottom of the page) and it was startling. Created by the Center for Disease Control, it simply shows the changes to the geography of U.S. Obesity from 1985 until 2010. As you sit and watch, this simple set of maps starts from nearly all blue and just gets redder and redder, effectively and dramatically showing the yearly increase of American wastelines. While we've all heard the phrase "Obesity Epidemic" being thrown around, this visual really hit home for me how recently and dramatically this excessive weight gain has happened in our nation.
To put this information in number form: In 1990, according to the CDC, no state surveyed had an obesity rate of more than 15%; by 2009, only two states, Colorado and the District of Columbia (not a state, but still) had obesity rates of less than 20%. Furthermore, according to the Trust for America's Health, by 2030 obesity rates in states like Mississippi could be as much as 67%. 67%! That's 2 out of every 3 people that are not just overweight, but obese. And it's not just American adults being affected. Childhood obesity is up; global obesity rates are skyrocketing (2.3 billion overweight people by 2015); even animals living close to humans are getting heavier. And it's not necessarily the weight that is the issue but rather the chronic diseases associated with this type of lifestyle that are costing billions of dollars and millions of lives.
With all this frightening data, what can we do about it? As a chef, I think an effective individual step is simply taking a few extra minutes each day to think critically about what we are putting in our bodies. "Healthy" food can be both incredibly nourishing and delicious; we just need to take the time to make sure what we eat fits both of these criteria, whether it's through cooking at home or simply choosing a more wholesome item on the menu.
Perhaps this is too simplistic, and of course there are many other factors to consider when battling obesity, (genetics, activity level, socioeconomic issues, etc), but it's amazing how far a little purposeful thought can take you.
What do you think? How can we combat obesity and ensure future generations lead healthier lives?