Turning the Tide on Obesity
Chloe Michelle Belisle 9 August 2012

© 2012 Chloe Michelle Belisle

2 Disclaimer: Guidelines, advice, or suggestions found in this article are not replacements for medical advice or diagnosis and are not intended to be taken as such. Always consult a doctor before embarking on a weight loss diet or if you have health concerns. Introduction: the Politics of Obesity Everyday is a challenge, for all of us, but some people have it harder than others. Obesity is a burden both physically and mentally; those who are diagnosed as obese are at an increased risk of coronary artery disease, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, stroke, sleep apnea, asthma, arthritis, certain brain tumors (pseudotumor cerebri), early pubescence, and even urinary incontinence (Critser 479, 480; American Heart Association). Emotional problems may result not only from poor body image and low self-esteem, but from the physical toil of just living. Despite the risks and problems associated with obesity, about thirty percent of all Americans are obese and a current study has predicted that the rate of obesity will continue to climb until finally leveling off at forty-two percent (Hill et al.). But what headway can we, as individuals, make against a flood of fat? Ideally, to combat obesity, we should not only improve our own health but also fight for the health of others by encouraging the government to take responsibility for the policies and trends it has encouraged that allow obesity to flourish.

One reason obesity has become so prevalent is because of outdated nutritional concerns at the federal level. During World War Two, the government became highly concerned with the health of its younger population when two out of every five men drafted were rejected because of physical inadequacies commonly caused by childhood malnutrition (Levine 56). To combat this devastating fact, the school lunch program was initiated as a way to feed poor schoolchildren and provide them with adequate calories and vitamins (mainly calcium) (Levine 94). Now, however, when rickets (see image1 ) and other diseases related to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies are very rare and obesity is increasingly commonplace, the United States Department of Agriculture needs to assess whether the lunches they are providing approximately 31 million school children with for twelve years of their lives are doing more harm than good. The Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM) evaluated lunch menus from sample schools across the US in 2012 and found that several of the most common (and of course, the most sought after) entrees such as beef and cheese nachos, cheese sandwiches, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, and pepperoni pizza had too much saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories (PCRM). These findings conflict with the USDA policies which state that lunches must adhere to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans (USDA). Adequate caloric consumption, calcium, and vitamin D cannot be the only health concerns when determining the best diets

All images found in Wikimedia Commons.

3 for millions of people. American children are more than potential soldiers, they are people who have lives to live after the age of thirty and cannot do that without proper childhood nutrition. A second possible reason for increased obesity rates is the changed nature of agriculture. Historically, cows were raised on fields and fed the grass that grew on the fields. The farmers that owned them drank their milk and occasionally had themselves a nice steak or homemade organ sausage. Beginning in the 1970's with Earl Butz appointment as Secretary of Agriculture by Richard Nixon, farmers were encouraged to plant corn from "fencerow to fencerow" (Dean). The resulting flood of corn and lack of grazing fields (which had been plowed in order to grow more corn) presented farmers with a dilemma: how would they get rid of their corn and still make enough money to pay off their debts? One way to do this is to find new products to put corn into, specifically the sugary derivative of corn called high fructose corn syrup. This product is found in an incredible range of foods, from the obvious culprits such as soda and candy, to less obvious items like bread. But sugar is only one component of corn, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that cattle are now commonly fed corn instead of grass. Using corn as cattle feed creates further dependency on corn-monoculture and, besides, is actually just not a healthy crop to be feeding cattle to begin with. Notice that the five most unhealthy school lunches all contain either dairy or beef: this is not a coincidence. The relationship between corn, cattle, and humanity is complex, but the result of focusing efforts on foods that have high sugar and fat levels is predictable: sugars and fats are now being added to foods and desert like foods, which have historically had a minor role in the average diet, are increasingly abundant. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of sweetened beverages like soda and sweetened juices, for example, has increased by 135% from the seventies to 2001. Sugary beverages generally have a low satiety level (meaning they do not satisfy hunger well) and very low nutritional value and have been linked to obesity in children as well as adults (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Can government regulations and capitalist economies be blamed entirely for the obesity epidemic? Maybe not completely. Physical inactivity has its toll, and even those who eat a range of healthy foods can find themselves tipping the scale more than they would like if they do not exercise regularly. The CDC found that about sixty percent of the American populace does not participate in any physical activities throughout the day, other than light incidental or occupational exercise. The percentage increases depending on what racial group one belongs to as well as what gender: non-white women are the most likely of any group studied to not participate in regular physical activities. Children, particularly poorer children, may not have the time, motivation, or means to exercise in increasing numbers as public school PE classes are constantly being defunded (Critser 484). Only one state requires physical education every day for all twelve years of public school. Without question, public schools need to prioritize physical education in addition to healthier lunches if there is to be any hope of making a dent in the obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, obesity cannot be resolved by waving the magical asparagus wand, but there are things that the parents and government bodies can do to ensure that the next generation is a healthier one. Understanding proper child nutrition is one of the biggest ways parents can ensure that their children do not become obese and develop healthy eating patterns, as France has demonstrated with their puericulture movement (Critser 483). With government help, France has succeeded at keeping the average national BMI at a healthy level, despite the common factors that plague industrial nations like sedentary occupations and a greater abundance of food. In the US, such a plan seems impractical for many reasons, but mostly because of the USDA’s bias towards dairy. The USDA has recently revised its food pyramid into a simpler plate, called MyPlate, showing the approximate proportions of protein, vegetables, fruits, and grains in an effort to make healthy diets more understandable. However, one can plainly see that dairy has a much higher status than it should, being almost equal in size to the fruit group even though many societies consume absolutely no dairy products and are perfectly healthy. Japan, for instance, has one of the healthiest diets in the world but lacks dairy completely (Walters). Considering dairy a food

4 group unto itself would be equivalent to making beef a food group or bananas a food group. The Healthy Eating Plate, developed by Harvard University, represents a less dairy-oriented diet as a healthy alternative to the USDA’s MyPlate. Personal freedom and personal responsibility have been important elements in American politics since it’s founding and this is often the defense the makers of unhealthy foods offer: obese individuals have only themselves to blame. However, in a true land of freedom, I don’t think a single person would choose to be fat and unhealthy, and definitely not thirty percent. We should encourage the USDA to give up its questionable ties with the dairy industry and fight for our right to be healthy before we worry about our right to be unhealthy. Fat and Biology: Losing Weight Through Dietary Changes

Inevitably when discussing obesity, one must also discuss fat. To be technical, fat tissue is the only tissue which has the ability to increase significantly in cell size as well as in number of cells if blood-fat levels are elevated for an extended period of time (Rigamonti et al.). All other major tissues, such as bone, neural, and muscle tissues, may increase slightly in size if the cells themselves get larger, but tissue growth is otherwise limited to the extremely slow rate at which cells are replaced (generally just enough to replace damaged cells). When foods containing fats are ingested, they are emulsified by gastric juices (the same process that turns oil and water into mayonnaise) for easier absorption: since we are water based creatures, our bodies have had to discover ways to make water and oil mix. (Martini et al. 906). Other gastric juices actually break down the structure of the fats, turning triglycerides (a structure with three fatty acids attached to one glyceride) into simple monoglycerides and free fatty acids which then enter the cells of the intestinal walls, AKA: the intestinal epithelial cells (Martini et al 906, Reed 76). Once inside the cells, the fatty molecules are reformed into triglycerides, mix with other nutrients such as steroids, phospholipids (which are important for making cell walls), and fat soluble vitamins like K, E, and A and bundled into little packages coated in proteins called chlyomicrons, and sent to enter the blood stream. This is why green vegetables such as kale, lettuce, broccoli, and peas (which contain fat soluble vitamins) are best eaten with a small amount of fat so that the vitamins can be easily absorbed (USDA and Martini et al 906). At this point, apolipoproteins in the blood carry the fats to various parts of the body for storage, such as under the skin (especially in hips, buttocks, thighs, and stomach), around internal organs, behind the eyes, and in bone marrow (Martini et al 124, 934). The stored energy will remain in these areas until extra energy is needed.

5 Contrary to popular belief, adipose tissue does not remain inactive until an individual begins to lose weight. Generally, carbohydrates are the preferred energy source because they break down quickly and result in high blood-glucose levels, making intense physical exercise possible, but fat can be used as well (Martini et al. 905). When carbohydrates are no longer available from ingested foods, the liver will break down its small reserve of glycogen into glucose which allows cells to go through glycolysis (or the production of ATP, the most basic form of energy that every cell needs to function) (Martini et al 935). Ketosis, the breakdown of fat, results in increased energy and greatly supplements the processes in the liver but also produces ketone bodies, which increase the pH (acidity) of the blood – sometimes to dangerous levels. Normally, ketosis takes place daily several hours after meals and during sleep and the ketone bodies are neutralized by buffering ions in the blood, but prolonged periods of fasting or lowcarbohydrate consumption can overwhelm the blood’s capacity to neutralize the acids resulting in weakness, coma, cardiac arrhythmias, and possibly death, depending on the severity (Martini et al 935). Low carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins diet, result in constant ketosis and can have a number of undesirable and dangerous effects, so it is best to eat at least some carbohydrates at each meal and induce ketosis within short time frames so that the buffering ions are not depleted. Individuals become obese when they consume too many calories regardless of whether they eat too much protein, carbohydrates, or fats. The National Research Council notes that “low fat diets do not produce weight loss” in their 2005 publication on dietary reference intakes (773). However, low fat diets have been shown to reduce the amount of total calories consumed, probably because fat has a small volume and does not satisfy hunger in the same way protein or carbohydrates would, prompting the individual to eat more (National Research Council 773-777). There is no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for fat because there is no minimum or maximum intake that is associated with disease prevention, however, it is suggested that twenty to thirty five percent of the total calories consumed should be from fat to ensure that enough linoleic acid is consumed (National Research Council 422-423). Most of the fats in the diet should be unsaturated fats which are found in fish and plants because they do not lead to plaque build up (atherosclerosis) in the arteries as saturated fats do (Martini et al. 943). It is impossible to eliminate saturated fat from the diet without serious health consequences (it is in almost everything in some quantity), but limiting consumption of red meats and dairy will significantly reduce the total percentage and is shown to have significant health benefits (National Research Council 769879). Carbohydrates should make up forty-five to sixty-five percent of total daily calories and protein should make up ten to thirty-five percent of the total calories consumed. So, when trying to build a meal plan for weight loss, individuals should focus more on what foods will fill them up without adding too many calories. Any diet should focus on fibrous foods like green vegetables, orange vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fruits as well as low fat sources of protein such as certain fish poultry, beans and grains. Those seeking to lose weight have the additional task of choosing quality foods that are also low calorie and will probably need to research the nutrient content of their foods. Reducing portion sizes as well as picking lower fat (and therefore lower calorie) items will help individuals maintain a low calorie diet without feeling deprived of food. There are many online tools which can help one calculate the quality and quantity of food eaten, such as MyPyramid and HealthStatus.


Weigh Loss and Exercise Exercise is the second factor in weight loss. Regular exercise has been associated with lower risks of many diseases and is necessary to maintain and improve overall health. Minimum requirements were set by the American Heart Association in their 2007 “Circulation” which states that thirty minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk walks, should be performed thirty minutes five days a week, or twenty minutes of high intensity exercise, such as jogging, for twenty minutes three days a week (1088). When trying to lose weight, meeting the minimum requirements, designed primarily for weight maintenance, may not be adequate and will result in minimal weight changes, which is often a source of frustration for overweight adults. Unfortunately, meeting the minimal requirements is not sufficient for making up years of poor health and inactivity. Generally, anywhere from forty five to ninety minutes of moderate exercise must be performed by obese individuals who want to lose significant amounts of weight. The American Heart Association also found that individuals who lost significant amounts of weight (thirty to fifty pounds) were much less likely to regain the weight if they participated in moderate physical activity for sixty to ninety minutes five days a week (1088). This may sound like a long time, but when one considers the fact that people in good health generally live much longer than those in poor health, exercise will actually increase the time one is able to spend doing other things over the course of a lifetime. A half hour workout is only about 2.08% of a day, and a one hour workout is only 4.17% of a day! Workouts do not have to be boring and monotonous - or impractically hard for that matter. There are many activities that can be incorporated into one’s life that fulfill the requirements. For example, if you live within ten or so miles of your workplace, commuting by bike is a reasonable alternative to driving. If you travel swiftly at fifteen miles an hour, your commute will take about forty-five minutes and will add up to ninety minutes a day. If you do this for five days a week, your physical exertion will be more than adequate to lose weight and prevent regain – along with proper diet of course. Commuting by bike has the added benefit of preventing congested traffic and reducing the amount of money spent on gas and parking. If you live within two or three miles of your workplace or school, you can also commute using nothing but your own two feet (and shoes, if you’re picky about such things). Other products and services exist for those who have a little extra cash to throw around. The most expensive of which would be the personal trainer: very effective, but very pricy. The Wiifit device, going for $90.00 plus the cost of the gaming system (another $300.00) is an interesting game because it can assess your BMI, record weight gain/loss goals, and evaluate and improve one’s balance (Health Status). Other than those functions, the wiifit device may not be the best way to lose weight because it easily overestimates exertion levels and one is limited to standing or balancing on a small board. Weight Watchers is another program that can help people lose weight and keep it off. Going to regular meetings

7 with people who share similar goals can be extremely motivating for people. The online version may not be much more effective than other tracking programs (which are free) like the USDA’s MyPyramid because of this missing component. If you work in a medium to large office with a little extra room, you can collect donations in order to buy exercise equipment. You can also hire a traveling yogi to conduct a class in a conference room or wherever there is extra space before work, during lunch, or after work, which can be a very affordable solution if a reasonably large group participates. Even better, invite your coworkers to play basketball or another sport after hours for some stimulating competition: you need only buy the ball and a hoop. Conclusion Losing weight is difficult, not only because people can become entrenched in their unhealthy lifestyles, but because of the ease with which Americans can slip into these habits and the fact that our government has been somewhat apathetic towards the issue of healthy diets for more than fifty years. We are fortunate to live in a nation with such wealth, but when it comes to food, we need to make sure we are investing in quality and not quantity. Remember, the easiest way to produce change for the better is to make changes in your own life, however small, and encourage those around you to do the same.

8 Works Cited

American Heart Association. “Obesity.” Health and Wellness Resource Center. Gale, 2012. Web. 8. Aug. 2012. “Circulation 2007.”American Heart Association. 1 Aug. 2007. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Critser, Greg. “Let Them Eat Fat.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Eschholz, Paul A., Alfred F. Rosa, and Virginia P. Clark. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2005. Print. Dean, Shea. “Children of the Corn Syrup.” The Believer, 2003. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. “The Five Most Unhealthful School Lunches.” The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Spring 2010. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. "Healthy Eating Plate - The Nutrition Source." Harvard School of Public Health - HSPH. 14 Sept. 2011. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Web. Hill, Alison L., David G. Rand, Martin A. Nowak, and Nicholas A. Christakis. "Infectious Disease Modeling of Social Contagion in Networks." PLoS Computational Biology. Public Library of Science, 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Levine, Susan. School Lunch Politics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2008. 56-94. Print. Martini, Frederic H. et al. Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology. 9th ed. San Francisco CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2012. Print.


National Research Council. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients).”Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Nucleusanimation. “Atherosclerosis.” Youtube, 9 Fe. 2009. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. “Prevalence of Sedentary Lifestyle.” Center for Disease Control, 1991. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Reed, Patsy Bostick. Nutrition an Applied Science. St.Paul MN: West Publishing Co., 1980. Print. Rigamonti, Alessandra; Kristan Brennand; Frank Lau; Chad A. Cowan. “Rapid Cellular Turnover In Adipose Tissue.” PLoS ONE 6(3), 2 Mar. 2011. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. “They Eat What?” Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. “USDA School Meals: Healthy Meals, Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids.” United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Aug. 2012. Vasanti, Malik S, Matthias B. Schulze and Frank B. Hu. “Intake of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Obesity.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 2006. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. “Wii Fit Review.” Health Status, 2008. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Wikimedia Commons. Web. Aug 2012.

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