Sunday, June 24, 2012

Do We Live In An "Obesogenic" Environment? A Qualified Yes, and You Can Do Something About It

This article is a pretty good summation of a vast report issued by the U.S. Institute of Medicine on America's obesity problem. The problem is "baked into" society by the poor design of living systems – not enough opportunites to walk, cycle, eat good food – a so-called obesogenic system.

The stats are sobering. 34 percent of U.S. citizens are obese and 67 percent are either obese or overweight. The trends say that by 2030, unless the conditions are reversed, more than 75 percent of people will be obese or overweight.

The reason I say a "qualified yes" is partly based on the approach to fitness I advocate in my book. Sure, the influences of western society are bad, "obesogenic," so you have to tweak your lifestyle – stand more, only take the stairs, take walk breaks at work, use the company weight facility, avoid refined sugar and flour, etc. etc. – to defend yourself, your health, against these influences.

Play tough defense, like Spain's soccer team!

American society is often vapid, overly acquisitive, noisy, and crass (as well as obesogenic), but that doesn't mean that you have to become vapid, overly acquisitive, well, you get the point. Health is cultural, and we have to learn different habits, and teach our children and loved ones better habits and techniques.

Another interesting point the IOM report makes is that the subsidized farming of crops like wheat and the corn for high-fructose corn syrup prohibits the use of the same land for healthier crops such as fruits and vegetables. This is another institutional dysfunction that may make it harder for people to eat real food.

Now for the gratuitous travelogue part of this post: a picture of the Matterhorn I took, a lifelong dream to see the MH once on a nice day. Since being in the Alps, my family's undifferentiated movement has increased substantially, because walking (often up steep hills), biking, swimming in the numerous lakes, and ambling over to the train are baked into these towns and villages, like they're not in the U.S.

I've seen groups of old people riding bikes and hiking up steep mountains. Switzerland is a prosperous and well-educated society (the vast majority I would describe as solid middle class, despite the stereotype), so it might not be fair to compare with the U.S. (isn't that sad to say that about modern America?). But they have an obesity rate of 7.7 percent, compared with 30.6 percent in the U.S.

Chew on these statistics from the CIA World Factbook. And believe me, they love their bread and sugar here in the Alps. Apparently, they generally don't binge on it, and their oscillating movement throughout the day is better than most.

With many small-scale exceptions (e.g., cool towns in the rocky mountains and sun-belt), the U.S. is a car-obsessed Fast Food Nation, so cultural aspects have contributed mightily to the undoing of our average fitness levels.

This picture shows me and my son setting off for an extremely short jaunt at 12,500 feet at the end of a cable car in Zermatt. I hope the weather holds up for my upcoming climbs so I can post some pictures later.

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