Clark: Are we about to experience our demise because of gluttony?
May 6, 2017
Under Barack Obama's presidency, the Food and Drug Administration set up new rules regarding nutrition information available to consumers.
Restaurants are required to provide the caloric content of food and drink items on their menus. Vending machine operators are required to do the same.
The purpose of these rules is to inform consumers regarding the caloric value of individual items so they might make healthy choices.
These rules were scheduled to take effect Friday. The food industry has determined these rules burdensome and has petitioned the present administration to overturn them, arguing this is just the kind of onerous regulation the new administration has opposed and halted since taking office.
Once again, it appears government had interfered with our daily life and suggested what we should or should not be eating. It would seem this should be the consumer's job, not the government's.
When I look at a menu, I shouldn't need some regulatory agency telling me what I should eat. Why would the federal government do this in the first place? Is there some national imperative that makes such rules necessary? Is obesity such a big problem it's a significant public health issue?
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Honestly, I became interested in this matter this past summer when I was on a family trip to Mount Rushmore. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A lot of people were not walking from one place to another, they were waddling. The benches were full of obese people having to rest. Wheelchairs and "wheelies" of one sort or another to cart them around were abundant. I was appalled, thinking if this is a sample of the adult population in this country, we're in real trouble.
Actually, who cares what I think? Let's look at the facts. If we expend energy (calories) by exercise and activities of daily living commensurate with what we eat, we will pretty much maintain our same weight. If, however, we take in more calories than we expend, those excess calories will be stored as fat. Because it occurs slowly and insidiously, a few extra pounds don't seem to have much effect. If the trend continues, however, there becomes a "tipping point." That's when our bodies won't allow us to do the exercise needed to maintain, much less lose weight. At that point, the process accelerates, leading to obesity. Any attempt to reverse it, more often than not, fails.
What constitutes "obesity?" Normal body mass index, a ratio of height and weight, is 18 to 24. A BMI of 25 to 30 is overweight. Greater than 30 defines obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has calculated two-thirds of the country's adult population is overweight. But the real shocker? An amazing 36.5 percent of the adult population in the United States is obese. That's one in three.
The medical implications are overwhelming. High blood pressure, heart disease, type II diabetes are just a few. Abnormal stress on hip and knee joints are common, leading to expensive surgery that otherwise would not have been necessary. It is estimated medical costs are $1,500 higher per year in obese patients, $200,000 over a lifetime. On a national level, that amounts to more than $150 billion.
I haven't even touched on loss of performance in the workplace. To make a long story short, it is estimated that by 2030, the loss of economic productivity due to obesity will be as much as $520 billion annually.
If we don't urgently address our impending public health crises (increase in mosquito-born disease due to climate change and substance abuse are just two other examples) we, as a nation, will go bankrupt. Wouldn't it be a terrible legacy if history recorded that while millions of people are starving to death on this planet, the United States of America experienced its demise due to gluttony?
Maybe requiring restaurant menus and vending machines show caloric value of individual items isn't such a bad idea, after all. Maybe we should be doing anything — no, everything — to reverse this train wreck. Maybe, just maybe there are occasions when some type of collective attempt to address a problem is necessary. Let's see what happens.
Dr. Ronald D. Clark lives in Windsor.