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Political Physics: Is America Too Fat for It’s Own Good? [BOOK WEEK]


a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

If you have not missed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I’d suggest catching the episodes as they are rerun or picking up the DVD when it is released.  And then pick up a copy of Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals.

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef and health campaigner in the United Kingdom.  During the series, which first aired in March on ABC, Oliver pushed a grassroots approach to curbing obesity in the United States by focusing on a small town in West Virginia called Huntington.  In 2008, the Associated Press named Huntington “America’s Fattest City,” “citing unmatched rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”  Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a morbidity and mortality report released in February 2010 that found that “32.9% of the populace surveyed in an area that included Huntington and nearby Ashland, Kentucky, is obese.”

In one scene from the show, Oliver takes a Huntington family to the doctors and the doctor notes that their 12-year-old son is showing signs of a potential onset of diabetes due to his weight.  I was in tears…the boy is twelve years old!  Thank God, the boy ended up not having diabetes but the scare motivated his parents to commit to making some significant changes to improve their son’s health.  And in another scene, Oliver challenges a group of 1st graders to identify fruits and vegetables, and they are unable to.  What!?!

It was eye opening and extremely sad all at the same time.

Now critics of the show, particularly the citizens of Huntington, West Virginia, argue that the show “exaggerated” the problems in Huntington.  But even if you take Huntington out of the equation, the problem of obesity (particularly childhood obesity) in the United States is very real and I suspect that the food revolution could have come to lots of other cities in the United States, including my hometown of Trenton, NJ.

Although New Jersey has the 10th lowest adult obesity rate in the United States, “almost half of Trenton’s children are overweight or obese,” according to alarming statistics in a recent Rutgers University study.  The study by the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University found that “childhood obesity is an epidemic that afflicts children in Trenton and other New Jersey urban communities at a notably higher rate than the national average.”

And nationally the picture isn’t mush rosier.

According to Wikipedia, “obesity rates in the United States are among the highest in the world with 64% of adults being overweight or obese, and 26% are obese.  Estimates of the number of obese American adults have been steadily expanding, from 19.4% in 1997, 24.5% in 2004 to 26.6% in 2007.  Should current trends continue, 75% of adults in the United States are projected to be overweight and 41% obese by 2015.”

And childhood obesity rates are just as startling.  Wikipedia noted, “close to 25% of children and teenagers in the United States are either overweight or obese.    [And] the percentage is higher in minorities like Pima Indians, Latinos, Asians and African Americans.  This has been attributed in part to sedentary lifestyle and consumption of fast food.”  Moreover, “over the last 20 years, the prevalence of obesity in children aged 2 – 5 years has more than doubled from 5.0% to 12.4%; for those aged 6 – 11 years the prevalence almost tripled from 6.5% to 17.0%; and for those aged 12 – 19 years the prevalence tripled from 5.0% to 17.6%.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a serious problem.

I understand that for some American families, particularly low-income families and families in urban communities where there are no major grocers, eating healthily is challenging.  As Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiology professor who studies obesity and social class, recently noted in an MSNBC interview, “Deep down, obesity is really an economic issue.  Eating healthy, low-calorie food costs more money and requires more preparation skills and time than consuming processed, high-calorie foods.”  In addition, MSNBC reported, “In a separate study in 2008, Drewnowski estimated that a calorie-dense diet costs $3.52 a day, compared with $36.32 a day for a low-calorie diet.  What this says is your social economic status is clearly associated with how overweight you are.”

But we do not have a choice.  Studies have shown that increased obesity rates in the United States are leading to increased type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and disability.  In particular, diabetes has become the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.  So to say that this is a life and death matter is not an over dramatization.

We are in dire straits and in my opinion the time for change is now.  And I think Jamie Oliver’s grassroots approach is actually spot on…because first and foremost the change needs to start at home in our kitchens and at our dinning room tables.

I would recommend that you start with watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Then, pick up a copy of Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals. I cannot attest to the ease of preparation, since I do not cook, but the book has photos, walks you step by step through the process and the meals really are affordable.

You know my husband and I take turns feeding my son in the evenings and undoubtedly after what seems like very little food to me, my son says he is “all done [insert whatever food he is eating].”  I used to force him to eat more and that would turn into this huge battle.  Now I am wondering if he just has a better concept of portion control then I do.

Click on the pic to buy the book!