It's not that I'm surprised by any of the data or insights.... nor by the urgency of how and why we must address the obesity epidemic -- once and for all -- effectively, assuredly, assertively, overtly, pervasively, etc. etc, -- for economic reasons, for our national and international health and well-being, for our sanity, our security, for our children, for the future of the nation, the world, the universe!!
Heck, I've known all that -- for YEARS!
THAT'S what's got me rattled!
That is, I feel like a total jerk! I'm a person who has been invested in the fight against obesity my whole life -- both personally and professionally and who, in fact, got INTO my professional field to DO something about preventing obesity! Yeah, right -- look at me -- look how great and effective I've been!
I would rather walk around with a big 'F' on my forehead than mope around, as I've been doing, with the feelings of co-existent sadness and anger that I have in my heart.
You see, about 25-30 years ago, I was the person who was actively, aggressively, enthusiastically, fire-in-my belly ALL OVER THIS issue and what I KNEW would come to the situation we see today had we not started to GET MOVING and get on track to address the burgeoning increasing weight of people AND their poor dietary attitudes and habits.
As a young dietitian, I was uber-sensitive to the effects of what TOO MUCH FOOD could do to a person. I was BORN a beautiful, HEALTHY girl, but WAS overfed and under-active as a child. I grew up obese, with all its humiliations and health-debilitating issues. But, THEN, after studying dietetics (duh -- that's what I had to do to 'GET IT'!), I finally learned the joy of balance! Well, anyway -- here I was, practicing away -- in hospitals, in clinics, in universities -- happy,happy... and, sure enough -- I started to notice. People -- ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE -- black, white, rich, poor, 2nd generation, 3rd generation, etc, etc., men, women, AND... sad, sad ,sad...CHILDREN -- increasing intake of foods from not only the BASICS -- in ever-whoppingly increased portion sizes-- but ALSO of all the ever-dazzling array of FAST FOODS, CONVENIENCE FOODS, MICROWAVEABLE MARVELS OF FOODS. I saw that people were feeling as 'nonchalant' and 'normal' and even 'effusively happy' about TOO MUCH food as I had been growing up in a family of Italian immigrants who found our sense of identity, worth, and 'love' around food and alot of it! I started to notice that people were getting as 'reliant', dare I say, 'addicted to' food as a means to provide them with much more than WHOLESOME nourishment for their bodies and 'souls'. Yes, there IS a wonderful feeling of being able to provide for one's 'daily bread' that 'feeds' the soul -- and it should not be overlooked when it comes to putting the joys of food in perspective -- but, people were getting DISPROPORTIONATELY attached to what foods could do for them, emotionally and psychologically, as well as physically/physiologically.
And the food, drink, and restaurant industries LOVED IT!! The 'weights' of the people of the nation began to skyrocket, at the hands of the entrepreneurial American spirit. At first, for, say, about 10 -15 years, it was a steady, albeit, even a bit insidious rise, until about 10 years ago when everyone, including all the 'experts', started to notice that more and more people were just overweight! Moreover, more and more people were, also,super-obese!
I really don't believe it was the conscious intention of the food, beverage, and restaurant industries to make this happen. Or maybe I just want to believe that!
Life was good. Many people were quite prosperous, or well on their way. Companies just dove in and worked, relentlessly, at producing products that the general public WANTED -- good-tasting, easy and quick, and ALOT of it -- pizza, dazzling-flavored soft drinks, outrageous cakes, cupcakes, muffins, sandwiches and subs of all sorts, even foods touted as being 'healthy', and 'light/lite' (remember 'Snackwell's Syndrome?!) -- and the 'food environment' became an almost unavoidable source of excessive kcalories, sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These substances became entrenched in our lives and embedded in our palates and taste buds. In fact, I feel quite truthful to say, in my own situation, it wasn't all the Italian/Mediterranean foods that my family cooked and fed me that so much made ME and so many of my siblings and other relatives obese -- it was all the EXTRA 'junk' we were eating as our parents, aunts and uncles sought to make us feel like 'real Americans' as they bought and fed us the likes of snack-pack puddings, cheeseburgers and fries, hot dogs and tater-tots, chips, and store-bought cakes, cookies, and pies. In my situation, my parents often 'surprised' us with these treats AFTER we had just finished a beautifully cooked and served fresh, homemade Italian 3-course meal!!
Anyway, as I stated earlier, I don't think there was ever a 'plan' to have a global obesity epidemic -- I just don't think we quite understood (and, for that matter STILL don't understand) how efficient is the capacity of the human body to make and store fat! We also under-estimated the pull of human nature to succumb to anything and everything that is, ultimately, not really in the interest of ourselves and the general public! Likewise, when it comes to the health of our children, I truly believe that no parent ever intended or would ever, intentionally, put their own child in harm's way or at health-risk. Yet, the fact of the matter is, with the food environment/supply, evolving as it was, the process of normal care and feeding your child/children meant 'overfeeding' and feeding all kinds of 'wrong', low-nutrient, high kcalorie foods. Also, as all this was happening around food, TV-watching began to increase PLUS the further tech boom of computers. This meant that people were sitting more -- on couches (thus, born was the 'couch potato') and behind computers -- for work, but also for entertainment, educating, and communicating. Thus, the combination of less physical movement with the increase in kcalorie, sugar, fat, and sodium intake by large cross-sections of the population, meant increased obesity incidence. This is actually the EASY part of the epidemic to understand.
What complicates and frustrates us is that there is NOW a whole generation of people (baby boomers) who have taste preferences, food 'requirements', and, actually, bodies that are (patho)physiologically CHANGED so as to function in whatever ways possible to prefer and sustain the obese state! This, in turn, results in all the complications associated with obesity: 1)many diseases and conditions like diabetes, hypertension, CVD, metabolic syndrome, etc. etc ; 2) inability to comply with dietary changes that makes one successfully lose weight and keep it off 3) 'needing' food to 'satisfy' emotional, psychological issues and not just hunger, 3) getting people to change their cooking and eating habits for themselves AND their families -- which means their CHILDREN. This last point is particularly poignant as we address the current obesity epidemic and contemplate what we need to do to arrest it.
As I said earlier, I knew this would happen -- I predicted it to my colleagues and co-workers in the mid-80's. But folks who were at the university hospital where I worked, who were in 'high-places' and 'powerful', at that time, thought I was 'over-reacting' and 'off-base' and that there were so many other departments and medical issues that needed attention and money -- MUCH more so than my self-assessed 'burgeoning pediatric obesity problem'. So, I was shot down when I proposed proactive projects and programs for pediatric obesity. Even though I had done my research and had evidence to show increased incidence of not just obesity and overweight among children from all races and SES, but also of probable untoward effects/symptoms included among other medical conditions, like hypertension, disordered eating, bowel issues, hyperglycemia -- 'TPTB' (ie -the powers that be) insisted obesity was not a serious pediatric reality. So, what did I do?! I backed down!
And I truly believe, it was the legacy of MY OWN OBESITY issues that made me think that everyone else was smarter, more sensible, more objective, and BETTER than me! I sold out. I dropped the ball!. I thought, for sure, that all these more 'powerful' and knowledgeable 'others' in influential positions, would eventually, in the next few years -- well, at least, by 1995 -- realize the need to address the pediatric obesity problem. I actually felt I had to 'get away' from the whole issue and get some perspective and reflect on what all these 'others' were trying to say to me. I stayed active, in my own practice, and was quite successful in my own circles with helping both children and adults, lose weight and EFFECTIVELY keep it off and/or understand and practice healthy/wholesome fresh balanced eating. But, I was living in Europe by then. People here generally, already, eat wholesome and balanced, and are physically more active.
But, by 1998, I noticed incidence in pediatric and general obesity continuing to rise in the US -- my home country -- as well as increased, stubborn, recidivism in sustaining effective weight loss and maintenance, naturally, also becoming more and more prevalent, among both adults and children. I became quite concerned and felt I had to try to do something! SO, again, I wanted to DO something! I went back to school and researched for another three years, gathering statistics and data and developed a protocol to proffer a program to get nutrition and RDs active in schools! This was in 2001. I was told, then, by internationally known obesity 'experts', and by a few professional associations that I thought, for sure, were invested in addressing the obesity epidemic that this would 'never fly' -- getting dietetic and nutrition professionals in schools was too 'political' and wasn't going to ever happen. Even a Yale 'obesity-expert' professor, who I thought would be amenable to my pleas to DO something more practical, yet pervasive for childhood obesity sufferers, was extremely patronizing and condescending toward me as he told me the problem wasn't 'so big'! It was almost as if there was a whole culture of 'obesity experts' who had evolved over the years who were making their OWN livelihoods on the back of the obesity epidemic! But, AGAIN, I retreated back -- thinking that 'others' were better than me!
And that's why I write this today!I want to acknowledge that it's never too late to become part of the solution of a problem -- regardless of setbacks and obstacles.
THANKFULLY, I have been blessed to have quite a few mentors and supporters, along the way, who have given me fantastic feedback on my work and what I was trying to achieve. But, more importantly, I'm extremely hopeful and thankful that the issue HAS COME TO LIGHT -- and there are many people now dedicated to truly addressing the issue, effectively and assuredly.
The environment has changed in many ways so as to help and enable people to make better choices -- both in their food selections as well as in ways to increase their physical activity. More choice for healthy, fresh foods are available and made convenient and easy to reach. Excellent food labels are now mandatory and are becoming more streamlined and consistent as we learn more and more what works best to inform and HELP folks make better selections. Health-care professionals are becoming better educated and equipped to deal with the issue of weight management. Dietitians are gaining a more active role and bigger voice in helping to link their valuable knowledge and expertise in ministering care and education to people AND to doctors, nurses, and the health media. We have a long ways to go, though -- making neighborhoods safer, making portion sizes smaller, making healthy, fresh foods even more affordable and accessible, increasing access to nutritional education and counselling -- among many factors that could make the difference as people seek ways to shift their behaviours from health-inhibiting to health-promoting.
The key, in my opinion, at this point in time, is to get people to change their behaviours from eating too much and moving too-little to eating just enough and moving more. People will need help and support to do this.
And, if anyone has FINALLY now learned -- the power of ONE is incredible! If YOU want to make a difference -- YOU CAN!!! No matter what your own history or limitations -- you are part of the change! That is the real power!
Things happen the way they happen. Just like if you've been overweight and/or obese and you've lost and gained weight again and/or have failed at every diet you've ever tried. Today is a new day and a new opportunity to get it right and YOU WILL!
So, if YOU are reading this, I beg you to start today! I KNOW your body is used to being heavy and wants to stay there. IT will do whatever it can to undermine your actions to change. YOU have to discipline yourself and keep on track. It is NEVER too late! You CAN do it. And if you think you can't do it for yourself -- if you find it just too overwhelming -- do it FOR YOUR CHILDREN! Get your children to eat healthier, move more and prevent them from either getting obese or STAYING obese. The earlier a person loses the weight and KEEPS IT OFF and/or learns and PRACTICES healthy eating and activity habits and primes the body to BE FIT and STAY FIT, the less likely that person will be to suffer from fighting a life-long weight problem. They will be 'normal' weight and they will BE SELF-REGULATORS of their dietary needs and physical activity needs. Their bodies will WORK FOR THEM in keeping them within a 'NORMAL' , if not OPTIMAL, weight and fat:muscle ratio. And, YOU, the parents of these children will be responsible for making that happen for your children!! Keep in mind, though, that if YOU, YOURSELF think it's too difficult for you to lose weight or keep it off, and you find, that even though you do whatever you must do for your children, you still stick to your own bad habits -- MAKE THE EFFORT TO CHANGE!!!! Because, children learn MORE FROM EXAMPLE than anything else and if they see you TRYING, they will be that much more apt to continue to follow healthy lifestyle habits themselves!!
Success begets success in this effort to eradicate the obesity epidemic!
And the more health-promoting products, programs, and services YOU DEMAND, YOU the PUBLIC DEMANDS -- the more industries, companies, governments, and stakeholders from all the sectors of the powers-that-be, will have to be in order to SUPPLY those DEMANDS!
That's the 'Win-Win', my friends!
There are SO may people, online, who have excellent FREE resources to help you.
I am more active than ever in doing whatever I can to enable and empower people to make the changes they need to make in order to get fit. If you need any help, whatsoever, please don't hesitate to contact me! The good thing about getting MY help is that you don't have to buy my book because I haven't written one, you won't get my secretary first because I don't have one, and you won't go through an electronic filter before you reach me, as I don't have one of those either.
I just lifted a HUGE WEIGHT off my mind! Thank you, #Weightofthenation!!!
:) Mary-Jo R. Overwater-Gervasio, MSc, MMSc RD