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Recognizing Ways To Prevent Disease

How can we prevent disease if we don't recognize it?

Nutrition is the number one world health problem. In third world countries, 30% of people have micronutrient deficiencies that can be prevented with a small amount of money. This exorbitant statistic is a heinous crime on all citizens since the money is available, but education and the way to get it there isn't.

As absurd as this may sound, that we actually have the money to stop the hunger, so too the opposite extreme exists. Obesity has exceeded malnutrition as one of the major health problems in the United States. How did this dichotomy occur? One reason may be that Americans don't often recognize obesity. Rationalization and lack of education are so prevalent in regards to obesity that most mothers can't even tell when their children are obese.

A University of Michigan study on this topic was reported in the New York Times on December 8th, 2007. Over 2,000 parents were interviewed about their children's weights and heights. An alarming 40% of parents mistook their children for normal weight when they were overweight. Oblivion to obesity sets us back many years and can be as harmful as malnutrition. Dr. Davis, an author of the study said, "If they don't actually perceive their children to have excess weight, then how can we realistically expect them to make changes?" How can you fix a problem you don't know is a problem? The adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, seems to be the attitude of Americans who aren't educated on health. Even though, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, in the last 50 years the obesity rate has climbed from 43% to 54%. With the rate of increase just over 1% a year, by the year 2054, all Americans will be overweight and hopefully I wont' be around to be part of that statistic.

This is surprising considering that fat people are still mocked and considered outcasts according to a recent study reported in Obesity in March, 2007. This study showed that "Overweight and obese individuals receive less pay, have higher rates of rejection and are less likely to be married." This study found that both males and females, with a three times higher prevalence in males, made "fat commentaries," of both verbal and non verbal content when fat people left the room. With the stigmatization and presence of obesity today, how can it not be recognized?

One clue may be due to fast food. In 1955, the average McDonald's meal consisted of: small fries, soda and a burger for a whopping 590 calories. Today, the small fries have upped itself to a large size and the burger has added on a double for a total of 1,550 calories. This amounts to a three fold increase in calories which makes up the amount that many women should consume for an entire day, not just a meal. So, by fast food companies super sizing little by little, we have woken up one day and a found three times as many calories on our plates. Unless we do three times a much exercise, there is no way our waist won't suffer. Parents may have not noticed because the weight creeps up little by little. Other interesting research lately has shown that obese people are more likely to befriend other obese people. If you only see obese people, why would you think you feel out of place?

Who is to blame for all this? Do we blame parents for not recognizing their children are overweight? Do we blame fast food joints for making fattening food so cheap and easy? Do we blame schools for not educating children and parents on nutrition and health? Everyone needs to ne somewhat accountable but more importantly, everyone needs to take action. You can't prevent disease if you don't see it staring you in the face.

Shari Portnoy, MPH, RD, LD/N is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She holds degrees in both Nutrition and Public Health and has completed the U.S. Food Laws course at the Michigan State University Institute of Food Laws. She has been a featured speaker at the American Culinary Federation National Convention and a board member of the American Dietetic Association

Reference Source 167
March 13, 2008


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