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Is The Nutritional State of Our Nation Improving?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By now, most of us are well aware that many things have changed over the last two years since the First Lady launched the Let's Move campaign. We have seen improved restaurant labeling as well as diet friendly sections on menus to help people make informed decisions when eating away from home. The new national food icon MyPlate has become a tool referenced in school health curriculums, by nutrition educators, and in marketing campaigns. Add the recent release of the updated school lunch recommendations and you can see the breadth and width of change aimed at helping Americans achieve a healthy weight.
We know that as our weight increases, so does our risk of developing medical conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and strokes to name a few. Beginning in 1997, standardizing classifications for overweight and obesity were adopted. Someone is defined as overweight when his or her body mass index (BMI) is 25 or higher. Obesity is defined by a BMI exceeding 30. Obesity is further clarified as Class I Obesity with a BMI of 30.0-34.9, Class II between 35.0-34.9, and Class III is a BMI greater than 40.
The first Dietary Goals for The United States were introduced in February of 1977 in a report prepared for the Select Committee of the Senate on Nutrition and Human Needs. The primary reason for the guidelines was to provide a practical guide to good eating since the research indicated the public was confused about what to eat to maximize health. So have we gotten healthier over the last three decades with healthy eating guidelines?

The 1977 research results revealed that too much fat, sugar and salt where directly linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, and stroke among other diseases. At that time, six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States were linked to diet. Here are some interesting statistics from the CDC that reflect where we are today:
  • Seven of the ten leading causes of death in the United States are a result of chronic diseases with heart disease leading the way.
  • Obesity related medical spending cost the nation $147 billion in 2008.
  • As of 2005, nearly one in two adults has at least one chronic illness.
  • Heart disease, cancer, and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% in women.
  • One in every three adults (35.5%) is obese and almost one in five youth between the age of six and nineteen is obese.
  • Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for the majority of the chronic diseases. All four of these are modifiable health risk behaviors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adult obesity rates have doubled over the past two decades. While the percentage of children that are above their normal weight has doubled over the last two decades as well and tripled for adolescents over the same amount of time. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) began routinely evaluating the health and nutritional status of Americans in the nineteen sixties. When you review the weight trends from the 1960s to 2000, you find that the percentage of American adults that are obese has increased over the four decades. At the same time, the percentage of healthy weight adults has declined.
Between 1960 and 1980, there was little change in weight with an estimated 15 percent of adults categorized as obese. However, between 1980 and 1991, there was a significant increase in the rate of obesity in America. The rate of obesity in men rose from 13 to 21 percent while the rate in women was higher moving from 17 to 26 percent. That tendency continued and by the year 2000, the obesity rate in men had risen to 28 percent and to an alarming 34 percent in women. With such a national focus on health and fitness centers around every corner, you would expect that this rate decreased a decade later right. Well, that would be true for women who didn't see a significant change over a decade even though 36 percent of women were considered obese in 2010. Regrettably, the obesity rate for men continued to climb and by 2010, the rate was at an all-time high of 35 percent as well.  
So what is the answer the original question? No, the nutritional state of our nation is not improving. It is encouraging to see that women are making some positive changes in their lives that are reflected in a stabilized rate of obesity over the last decade. However, it is discouraging to see that the obesity rate in men has continued to rise. While none of us may want to go back to the 1960's, it would be beneficial to reflect on how day-to-day life then compares to now especially when it comes to food and activity. That comparison may shed light on what needs to change if our nation is to reach the First Ladies goal of "solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation." Whether you directly influence children in your daily life or not, it is important for all of us to reduce our risks of chronic disease and set a positive example. Setting and achieving goals that actively modify the four health risk behaviors is a great start.   
Let's brain storm! Share your thoughts and ideas --
  • What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate?
  • What changed in the 1980's that led to the big obesity rate increase that continues today?
  • What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate?

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Q - What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate?

A - People have become much more sedentary. Kids used to go outside and play. today, they sit in front of computers or TV playing video games. Adults used to walk to the store to pick up a half gallon of milk. Today, they drive to that same store.

Q -What changed in the 1980's that led to the big obesity rate increase that continues today?

A - An increase in portions. the 1980s were the age of "super sizing". Needless to say if a person keeps eating super sized portions, they are going to end up super sized. The 1980s also saw the exponential increase in the proliferation of fast food places. McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, etc... they're everywhere !

Q - What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate?

People need to learn to cook and stop relying on either frozen meals or fast food. When a person cooks their own meals, they become more aware of what they are putting into their bodies. They also need to become more active. Leave the car at home and try walking to more places. give the kids a basketball, soccer ball or roller skates. Take them to a real bowling alley instead of using the Wii !

The proliferation of "convenience foods" and the advent of the video game have been the scourge of our society - and the downfall of our health. Report
We had P.E. in school in the 50's and 60's TV was lame and we used to walk to our friends homes to visit instead of texting. We walked or rode bikes to get where we had to go, no sitting for hours in front of computer or tv we had better things to do. We did not have a fast food place on every street corner 99.9% of our meals were home made by our mothers not fast food bought home for us to eat ,we had real food. Report
What's changed? People are more crunched for time. Many families are dual-income families or single parent families, and there isn't as much time to prepare food at home or have family dinners when both parents are working outside the home or when single parents are being both mother and father. Children are also scheduled into multiple, structured activities outside of school which leave parents and kids stressed, carpooling, and often in a hurry to be at a certain place at a certain time. At the same time, to meet the changing needs of our fast-paced, not-enough-time culture, there has been an increase in convenience (processed) foods and fast food places, and more people eat out, all representing a reduction in the quality of the food eaten and the introduction of many artificial ingredients into our diets. There has been an ongoing rise in food prices, as well, and I think people are bargain hunting with an eye for making their dollars stretch rather than thinking of what might be wiser purchases nutritionally. Add to this the amount of sit-down-in-front-of-a-screen activities we have now, representing a decrease in the amount of physical activity and play, and it's no wonder that we have an obesity epidemic in this country.

Some of this might be economically driven and necessary in these times, but some of it is also the choices we make and the priorities we set for ourselves and our families. Right now, we are stuck in this rut of going-going-going, like being on a treadmill going so fast we don't know how to step off, so it's easier just to try keep going. I think it's going to take a widespread change of perspective about what is really important to us, and willingness to possibly forfeit economic advancement over what is good for us and our families. Report
What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate?
I grew up in the 50s and 60s. Not every home had a TV in the 50s, and it was safer for kids to be outside playing. (How long has it been since you've heard a mom yelling for her kids to come home for dinner?) TV dinners were an occasional treat. Fast foods also were an occasional treat. My family didn't even own a car until 62, so we walked everywhere, unless we took a bus.
What changed in the 1980's that led to the big obesity rate increase that continues today?
Video games and home computers.
Bigger portions and more fast food restaurants.
Artificial sweeteners that didn't taste bad.

What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate?
Smaller portions and more physical activity. Neighborhoods should have playgrounds and parents take turns supervising, to protect children from the predators that are one of the biggest reasons we are tending to keep our kids inside nowadays. I see playgrounds with idle swings and few kids on the climbing equipment. I remember always having to wait in lines to swing or teeter totter when I was small. Report
Our culture has become one of instant gratification. This is apparent in our eating habits, in our spending habits and in our general lifestyles. We want it now. We want it in abundance. We want it faster than ever before--sometimes just for the sake of being faster.

Attitude and philosophy of life may be at the bottom of all of these problems. Report
I think it is a combination of what everyone is posting. Report
I believe one of the biggest problems that has led to the increase is obesity is unfortunately related to economics. The poverty rate has been increasing steadily since 1980 and more people have needed to resort to cheap food, which frequently and increasingly has been unhealthy highly processed foods. Report
I agree with the other posters: What has changed? Too many processed foods and not enough exercise. When I was growing up, we might have eaten too much 'comfort' food, but I remember that processed foods were not eaten every day. We had frozen dinners (Swanson TV dinners) once in a while and occasionally mac and cheese and maybe a pizza from a kit (Chef Boyardee cheese pizza kit). I do remember eating out at restaurants sometimes, but the only fast food I remember growing up was the occasional chili dog from the local hamburger/ice cream place and Italian at the local pizza place.

As far as exercise goes, we got out of the house as soon as we could every day and didn't go in (except for lunch and dinner) until the streetlights came on. I also rode my bike all the time. Of course, we didn't have computers, video games and the TV only got 4 channels!

And this wasn't a millennium ago--my childhod was in the late 60s and the early 70s. Report
What has changed? Our culture.
In the 1960's it was still safe for kids to walk or ride their bikes to school. Kids would play in the neighborhood after school also. PE was a daily class; art and music were part of the curriculum also.
Families could live comfortably on one salary meaning that a parent (usually the mother) could stay home and manage household affairs including fixing nutritious meals and maintaining a safe home. Evening meals were eaten in a more relaxed manner. Families interacted with each other on a daily basis.
Portions were a lot smaller then. Hamburgers were usually only 2 or 3 ounces and a normal serving of chips was about 1 ounce. Sodas were 6 ounces or 8 ounces; refills in restaurants were NOT free.
•What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate? The food that we eat is full of stuff that shouldn't be there i.e. preservatives, fillers, high fructose corn syrup and ten other different names for sugar, and thousands of chemicals it takes scientists to pronounce. I would bet if we go back and look at the time that these things entered our daily diets, we'd be able to answer this question. Couple the diet with decreased activity and you have the perfect storm.

•What changed in the 1980's that led to the big obesity rate increase that continues today? When I started high school in the 80's, there were two fast food restaurants in my town. Today there is one on every corner. We're all busy and it's easy, and a lot less expensive, to be quick and convenient and get sucked into the poor nutrition these places provide.

•What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate?
Buy local, buy fresh, buy organic. Take the time to eat right and don't fall for the convenience of highly processed foods that are nutritionally deficient. All of us who have consumed these foods for years and years are literally starving ourselves and wondering why we overeat. If we would simply give our bodies the food they want, and throw in a little healthy movement, I think things would change quickly and significantly. Report
Well in the 1980's HFCS was introduced as an active ingredient in our foods, along with many other preservatives, extra salt, etc. Add that along with decreased activity, (like others said, computers, video games) and you have a recipe for obesity. Get away from the processed junk, get moving again and you're there. Report
•What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate? More machinery, makes for less activity. Bigger portions with more fats, salts and sugars. More TV, Movies and Video Games. Less opportunity (time and finances) for work outs.
•What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate? What doesn't need to be done should be the question. Report
I think it's a combination of more sedentary life styles and the availability of cheap fast food. Portions sizes growing by leaps and bounds doesn't help either. Report
Just not enough time set for exercise. They need an hour a day at least. Report
The 1980's saw the introduction of video games and the widespread use of cable television. Although cable was around since the 70's in major markets, it made inroads into all population areas in the 80's. The increased choice it provided combined with the video games exploding on the scene no doubt played a role in childhood obesity rates increasing. Not to be overlooked is that the 80's saw computers in the home take off. This was another 'sedentary' entertainment choice (along with video games and cable television) that changed the focus from outdoor activities to indoor activities. Now combine all of this with the increase in portion sizes in restaurants and the lack of choice of healthy foods (combined with the continued growth of prepackaged highly processed foods) and the ingredients for obesity are there. Report
I think the core cause of obesity in the youth or adult population is decreased activity. When we were children and now as an adult, we are always on the go. Now people in general are attached to the computer, cell phone, tv. There is a decrease in live communication and interaction of persons. They're busy, but only with their minds, not their whole body. Many already know the basics of good nutrition, but they still make the wrong choices. Report
Portion sizes! Report
Healthy food is so expensive. People choose fast food cause life is busy! When you slow down and start eating healthy and preparing meals at home things change for the better! Report
very good info Report
Television. Report
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