Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Horror Show

No, I didn't go see 'Dark Shadows'.  Maybe I'll have a free weekend before it leaves the theaters.

In the meantime, I've been working my way through HBO's new documentary, 'Weight of the Nation', which examines America's obesity epidemic.  You don't need to subscribe to HBO to see it, you can watch it for free with no commercials here.  It's in 4 parts and for me the most horrifying was Part 3 which addresses childhood obesity and parts of Part 1 which also had segments on kids.  I can't stand when politicians and special interest groups use kids to manipulate but it was hard for me to watch the school nurse doing health checks of the students and crying over the obesity and high blood pressure present in over 50% of the kids at her middle school in Louisiana.  12 years old with high blood pressure.  Lots of them. 

There are lots of unnerving statistics in this documentary, so many your head can't even begin to hold them all.  I found the following to be particularly disturbing:

Ideal factors of cardiovascular health:

1.  Optimal levels of total cholesterol
2.  Normal blood pressure
3.  Not having diabetes
4.  Having a lean body mass index (ie not obese or overweight)
5.  Not being a smoker
6.  Participating in recommended physical activity
7.  Healthy diet

Less than 1% of Americans meet this criteria.  Less than 1%.

It costs $1400 more per year to care for an obese person than to care for someone who's not obese.  Someone with diabetes costs $6600 more per year to care for.  Collectively obesity costs $150 billion per year.  About half of these costs are paid for by public funds, ie medicare and medicaid.

18% of children are obese.  2/3 of adults are either obese or overweight.  Or put another way only 1/3 of adults are at a healthy weight.

It seems to me that we're already well beyond a reasonable tipping point and yet all indications point to things getting exponentially worse.

The documentary examines all aspects of the problem including farm subsidies for corn and soy and lack of government (Republicans) intervention with respect to predatory marketing to children due to power of the corporations and gives a surprising voice to small/family farmers groups.  They could have gone deeper into these issues (if there is a corporation more evil than Monsanto walking the planet I surely don't know what it is) but at least they were addressed, surprising considering it was HBO doing the series.  I have to give them props for doing it and allowing people to view for free.  They're also allowing/encouraging educational institutions to show it for free.

The show wasn't all doom and gloom and there were some examples of people taking control of things on a local and personal level but overall I was not getting a huge sense of hope.  My initial interest in the show was to help me get more insight into my weight loss clients.  I watch all kinds of shows and read all kinds of books related to diet and weight loss so that I can better help my clients.  But this show was beyond disturbing and I'm not really a 'sky is falling' sort of person.  But living in Boulder I've clearly been shielded from the severity of what's going on outside the 'bubble', especially when it comes to kids.  There's an elementary school that I walk past all the time and the majority of kids seem to be a healthy weight but clearly this is the exception and not the rule.  Food is one thing that kids truly have little to no control over, they depend on the adults in their life to provide them with healthy food and to teach them how to make healthy choices.  These kids are going to struggle physically and emotionally their whole lives because of the failings of the adults in their lives be it parents, schools, government/corporations.

I could on about this for a lot longer but I won't.  I don't like to be a food/lifestyle nag.  I've always figured people make their choices and it's up to them to deal with the consequences.  If people come to me for help as a client or even a friend that's another matter but I don't judge people about their lifestyle choices or try to intervene.  But wow, things are really getting out of hand and I'm thinking it's time for somebody somewhere to start shouting about it or that Wall-e movie is going to be a reality sooner than we realize.  I think Robert Lustig and Jamie Oliver are my new heroes.


  1. Ugh. That stuff is so disturbing for me too. Not that everyone is healthy where we live but compared to some of the states with the highest obesity rates...we are spoiled. The state of our health is out of control as a culture.

  2. I haven't watched the series yet but I've heard about it a few times and it sounds to be really well done. I, too, drew the parallel to Wall*E--actually a few years back, when my boot camp coach did a powerpoint presentation that showed parts of america where 25% and then 50% of the population were obese over the last 50 years and it was pretty scary.

  3. The entire state of CO is an exception.

  4. Yeah, what Kathy said. I havent watched the program yet, but arent they saying that the kids today will be the first generation to not, on average, live longer than their parents?
    It's really disturbing. I blame it on electronics.
    Things that are supposed to make life easier for us is making us lazy. Kids don't get on their bikes and go for a ride, or play hide-n-seek, or climb trees or explore the woods or walk to Al's house and back - all the stuff "we" did as kids. No, instead, they sit their fattening asses down in front of a TV with 300 channels of nothing, or more often in front of a computer chatting with their virtual friends, or in front of a video game. Why walk to the mailbox when you can send an email. We dont even need to get up, get in the car, drive to the store and walk around and buy something, when instead we can just order it from Amazon and have it brought to the house.
    Schools have done away with Phys Ed to save money.

    It seems people who move to Colorado have a mindset of 'get out and do something' much more than the rest of the country. The worst I've experienced was when I lived in Houston 15 years ago. Everywhere I went, it seemed like 1 out of 2 people were Very visibly overweight. I know the epidemic is much worse in the south, but it's pretty bad in cold climates too.
    It's all very disturbing and sad.

  5. So Im am a school nurse. Yes there are a lot of over weight kids at school. There some things the government has done. They can no longer take away recess as a punishment for bad behavior. (at least they arent suppose to). We still have PE. Here at our school its every other day. They have music the opposite days. We are trying to make school healthier. No candy as rewards at school ( I cant say all the teachers follow this). No snacks that have minimal nutritional value. Some school have been good about following this, others have not. There are fitness programs that have started after school. So people are trying, but change will take time and people dont like to change. It amazes me how angry the teachers are about not being able to give candy.

  6. It's interesting to see what cultural segments are overweight here in CA. For example--go to Walmart and then go to Nordstrom's (or check out any up-scale shopping area) and compare the average waistlines. Go to a discount grocery and go to a farmers market and compare the average waistlines.

    NPR interview about the documentary also made the point about everyone being less physically active in every way, things you don't always think about: You used to have to roll down a car window, for example, or hit the return on a typewriter, or walk down the aisle to talk to a co-worker.

  7. Wow, a lot of great comments.

    It's true, the state of Colorado has the lowest adult obesity rate however it is still 22% and climbing exponentially from year to year along with the rest of the country. 22% is still pretty terrible. There's a huge disparity across the state as well with the adult obesity rate at 30% for the eastern portion of the state (similar demographics to Kansas and Nebraska) and 15%-16% for the western part of the state. And childhood obesity? We rank 23rd in the nation and the rate is climbing faster than the rate for adults.

    Boulder and Douglas Counties have the lowest obesity rates on the Front Range at 15% and Weld County, Boulder's neighbor to the east has one of the worst rates at 25%. We're talking a 10-15 minute drive. So yes, Boulder is truly an exception even in CO.

    However, when I went to the doctor 2 years ago for a routine check-up she literally clapped her hands and told me she was so happy she didn't have to give me the lecture about weight, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. I was shocked that this was a commonplace discussion in her office in Boulder but she said it was. And I weighed 126 lbs. at 5'-4" at the time. When I weighed this as a teenager at the exact same height my doctor told me I needed to lose 8-10 lbs. yet today I'm considered healthy. (I did lose the weight last year even though she didn't tell me to). And Boulder's obesity numbers are moving up right along with the state and the country and I find this alarming. If you can't be healthy in Boulder what hope does the rest of the country have?

  8. The program did mention that today's kids are at risk of living shorter lives than their parents. And again, those childhood rates of obesity were rising even more sharply than the adult rates. Very scary and sad for the up and coming generations.

    The program did mention that t.v. and computer use among kids has risen over the years and is for sure a factor. But there were lots and lots of other factors - some related to kids being more sedentary, others related to their crappy diets of fast food and processed food. When I was a kid you could count on one hand the number of times we went to McDonalds or other fast food places in a year. 80% of kids are driven to school these days compared to 67% in the 70's. One of the biggest factors though is the consumption of soft drinks, juice and other sweetened drinks. When I go to triathlons I'm always shocked by the amount of parents giving their kids sports drinks. Why does an 8 year old standing around at the finish line need a high calorie sports drink? Robert Lustig has a lot to say about this, I'll dig up his video and post it in the blog.

    Schools are full of vending machines that are full of sugar whether it's drinks or food. One school in the film had a cafeteria that was set up like a food court in a mall and was serving similar type fast food so the kids weren't touching the government funded lunches which to be honest didn't look all that healthy either. We started having coke machines in school when I was in high school and they were shut off at certain times of the day, parents fought it really hard, it was considered controversial. The high school also started having a private company provide lunches and they always had milk shakes and french fries available and the parents fought this too but $$$ talks, even in one of the top 10 wealthiest public school districts in the country (New Trier in the northern 'burbs of Chicago).

  9. I'm glad to hear your school is taking some action Diana. It's certainly better than nothing. I've actually heard parents complain that their kids should be able to have treats in school for birthdays, etc. We pretty much never had treats given to us in school, certainly not for rewards, maybe an occasional school party or special occasion but not for everybody's birthday.

    We had to take PE to graduate high school. The only way you could get out of it is if you were on a school athletic team. I never felt like PE in school was much of a workout except on the very few days they made us run. Mostly I remember standing around waiting my turn in a line of almost 30 other kids. To think that PE every other day is considered a luxury is crazy to me. Even every day wouldn't be enough but it would certainly be better than nothing. Unfortunately the problem is huge, way worse than I was aware of, and the solutions that we have right now are too little too late. I fear it's going to take some major kind of overhaul to even make a dent.

  10. Obesity has long been tied to income, that's nothing new, what's new is the rising rates among, well, everybody. Certainly there are cultural divides as well, people who identify with eating large portions of unhealthy food and don't want to be identified with eating healthy food. However the alarming thing is how quickly this divide is closing.

  11. The show I heard (I think it was an interview with the producer or director of the series) definitely commented about the kinds of foods that kids are served at home & school and about the marketing; he commented something like "If our country set out to deliberately make our children obese, they could not have come up with a better marketing campaign than what's going on right now every day." Also noted that "serving" sizes have climbed dramatically; for example, what was a large fries at MacD in the 70s (?) is now a small.

    I wrestle with my weight and food cravings all the time, and I consider myself to be *very* aware of what healthy eating is and to be much more active than the average american.

    Another bit of research I heard a while back was that your weight tends to mirror the weight of people you know--even if the people you know don't live near you (for example, maybe you have friends or distant relatives out of state but you keep in touch--they also have an impact). So it kind of spirals, because everyone knows a lot of people who are overweight or obese these days. This is one reason why I'd hate to give up dog agility (although I talk about doing so a lot); I'd say that the healthy weight percentage is *much* higher at dog agility trials than in the general population. Same goes for going hiking and doing activities with sierra club hikers. So you can influence your own weight subconsciously by whom you choose to associate with in person and online.

    Someday I may call on your skills as a hypnotist to see about dealing with the cravings. That's a bit of a long story, too.

  12. This page, about halfway down, has a slide show showing rates of obesity by year 1986 thru 2010. Scary. Wish they started even farther back than that.

  13. And I just looked at the data by county for my area--all the counties around here (SF Bay Area) are in the 0-22% obesity rate, but by detailed numbers, the lowest of those is still 15%. My county is about 21%. One out of every 5 people. Just wow.

  14. Funny--and just right now I got an email from Kaiser (my HMO), "Getting the Skinny on Losing Fat". I think that the series on TV is really helping to spread the word.

  15. Yeah, I hope the show will help bring about some significant changes. Awareness alone isn't enough at this point.

    That's an interesting point about the people you surround yourself with having an effect on your weight. Anecdotally I can think of many examples. Oddly enough the one place I run into overweight people is at agility trials, even more so than I ran into at my old engineering job, and CO probably isn't nearly as bad as other places. I watched one of the Regionals that USDAA was streaming for free and noticed a difference for sure. Again, I think I'm experiencing a much different reality living in the 'bubble' of Boulder.

  16. They showed that CDC map on the documentary and that was bad enough but even more alarming was the line graph charting the entire nation's obesity over time. In the early 80's the line starts to steepen and as you move along to the present becomes even steeper. I knew this was a problem, just didn't have any idea how incredibly serious it was until watching the show and seeing it all laid out in charts and graphs and statistics.

  17. And someone just now posted this on facebook. "Jamie Oliver - Nugget experiment epic failure." Even he's discouraged.

  18. I remember seeing that when it was on t.v., can't remember which series it was though, maybe the kids in Huntington, WV. Kids will eat anything, the grosser the better and that's exactly why they need adults to control their diet.

    And if you think that's bad, here's a clip of 6 year olds from Huntington unable to identify a tomato or a potato.
    Jamie Oliver Potato or Tomato