Since sophomore year of high school, I have been enrolled in a school that is far from my home. I attended a private boarding school in Natick, Massachusetts for the arts, where I engaged in intense workshops for three hours each day Monday through Friday. Besides adapting to being away from my parents, I gradually became accustomed to making my own choices without having one of my parents reminding me to do my homework or study for a quiz. Not only did I have to improve my time management skills, but I also needed to keep track of my eating habits.
Within the first two weeks of being away from home, I had gained roughly ten pounds. My mother, who is a health specialist and former gym trainer, noticed my sudden weight gain when visiting me the first weekend of October. She had me write out an accurate list of food I was consuming on a daily basis. After looking over my new diet, I noticed that my calorie-intake exceeded what was necessarily needed. Most of the food I was eating was low in nutritional value (i.e. chocolate, chips, soda) and high in calories. Once my mother was aware of how careless I was about my food choices, I was embarrassed and stopped my bad habits instantly. After struggling for a bit, I was able to get back to my previous weight by the end of my March break.
Now a college student at Southern New Hampshire University, I have continued to maintain a healthy diet and routine of going to the gym at least twice a week. Even though the school provides me with a $1,500 meal plan per semester, I do not waste the plan on snack foods or extra, unnecessary beverages. Similar to my experience in boarding school, I have the freedom to eat whatever I want especially since I am no longer under my parent’s supervision. But after learning from my mistakes, I have decided to not waste my money on food low in nutritional value and high in calories. Not only are most snack foods and meals provided by fast food low in nutritional value, but also they’re lower in prices. Living on campus, I have acknowledged that a majority of my dorm mates tend to snack on meals high in calories and fat late at night, after they have had dinner. On my floor, someone is always ordering a pizza at eleven o’ clock at night or heating up microwave popcorn. Instead of restoring their energy with much needed rest, they binge on foods low in nutritional value yet, high in calories. Because most students struggle with financial management, they reside to purchasing cheaper foods in large supplements.
For example, one could buy an eight piece KFC chicken meal with four biscuits and two sides for under twenty dollars; but they could also buy two pounds of chicken breast, ten pounds of potatoes, eight ears of corn and a pound of lean ground meat for under twenty dollars. In this scenario, enjoying the KFC meal is more captivating because it does not involve any preparation.
According to the nutrition guide provided on the KFC website, one chicken drumstick is roughly one hundred and twenty calories and just one biscuit is one hundred and ninety calories. Hypothetically, if you consume an eight piece chicken meal from KFC, as well as one biscuit, you will intake roughly one thousand one hundred and fifty calories (KFC Nutritional Guide, 2012); while a pound of skinless chicken breast is under five hundred calories. In comparison, an eight piece chicken meal has two thousand four hundred milligrams of sodium and eighty-eight grams of protein (KFC Nutritional Guide, 2012). But a pound of chicken breast has only two hundred and fifty-nine milligrams of sodium and one hundred and five grams of protein.
When asked if there was someone to blame for our obesity epidemic, my secondary source, Cheryl Davey – AFFA-certified aerobics instructor – shed some light on how much an average person is consuming. “The portion sizes have grossly increased over the years. A large popcorn and soda from 30 years ago is now considered a child’s or a small popcorn and small soda. As a nation we are consuming way too many calories and not exercising enough.”
In these past twenty years, obesity has continued to be a conflict in the United States. Since 2010, no state has had an obesity rate under 20%. Thirty-six of the states had a rate of 25% or more, while twelve of those states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a rate over 30% (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d).
These rates in obesity demonstrate how engaging in physical activity is not our nation’s priority. On average, a person should engage in thirty minutes of physical activity up to five days a week. The daily exercise should last at least thirty minutes. These thirty minutes of exercise can be broken up into three separate ten-minute sessions. The exercise should be done at a moderate level in order to get the person’s heart rate up and breathing rate up. Examples of moderate workouts include brisk walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming, or elliptical training. If someone walks for under ten minutes, his or her choice of exercise is not considered aerobic (Bumgardner, 2011).
A person’s intake of fast food, whether frequently or rarely, does not negatively affect their health. When it comes to maintaining a healthy life style, exercising is precedent; as long as a person is exercising on a weekly-basis, their unhealthy food consumption should not be a concern.
Obesity is an epidemic that has affected all races, age groups, and classes in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2006 statistic, 30.7% of white American kids, 24.9% of blacks and 38% of Mexican Americans are overweight or obese. Low income is considered a link to obesity; CDC concluded that 22.4% of ten to seventeen year olds living below the poverty line (less than $21,000 annually for a family of four) were overweight or obese. In comparison, 9.1% of kids who were raised by a family that earned at least four times that amounts were overweight. A child’s health is also discriminated by his or her geography. According to the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health, 16.5% of rural kids were qualified as obese, compared to just 14.4% of urban kids. It has been concluded that the poorest states of the South and Appalachia – Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky – have the heaviest children. On top of that, since 1980, the obesity rate amongst six to eleven year olds has nearly tripled (Walsh, 2008). “The environment makes it easier or harder for healthy choices to be the default choices,” says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey (2008), president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which last year pledged $500 million to end the rise in childhood obesity by 2015. “And adults create the environment that kids live in.”
One Tuesday afternoon of this semester, I spent an hour at the gym. I returned to my room to find my roommate lying in bed watching television and drinking a bottle of chocolate milk. About to grab a towel for my shower, I take off my shirt revealing my flat stomach and slight muscle tone along my abdomen. Changing in front of my roommate has never been an issue for me; I have always been comfortable when changing in front of anyone – even people of the opposite sex. For my roommate, seeing me in just a bra and pair of jeans was a daily occurrence. But this particular afternoon, my roommate who is merely three inches taller than me yet, roughly a hundred pounds heavier than asked me: “How do you get your stomach to be so flat?”
I quickly responded, “Stop eating.” She burst out laughing but then soon stopped once she realized I was being serious. I explained to her that I do eat, but I only eat the three meals I need. She replied with, “Oh, so do I.” Cutting her off I added, “I also do not drink soda, eat ice cream or drink chocolate milk.” After that had been said, I took a look at the nutritional label on the back of her drink. Her one bottle of chocolate milk was two servings: 240 calories and 36 grams of sugar per bottle.
Dr. Thomas Robinson, an obesity researcher at Stanford, told a New York Times reporter, “to gain fifteen pounds in a year, you only have to have an imbalance of 150 calories a day, which is one soft drink.”
In support of my story, Robinson’s quote demonstrates how oblivious people are about their daily intake and portion sizes. Because some consumers, like my roommate, trust that just one bottle of a drink low in nutritional value is okay for the moment, shows that they are unaware of misleading portion sizes. It is not just solely about avoiding carbs or fatty foods, but keeping track of how much you are eating in comparison to how often you are exercising. When changing one’s diet, he or she should not be concerned about their carb intake. Calories – unit of food energy – in large intakes can have fattening effects on a person’s body. Carbohydrates actually contain four calories per gram of food, which is equivalent to the amount of calories per gram of protein. Furthermore, fat has nine calories per gram (Fernstrom, 2006).
Although carbohydrates share the same calorie amount as protein, they have different metabolic effects on the body. Protein has a neurochemical effect on the brain, making you feel more satisfied or full when you eat. Carbohydrates are conversions of fat after a person has lost weight. Because carbohydrates are quickly used, our bodies do not store them. Instead, the body tends to convert proteins and fats into carbohydrates, which are then stored as fat (Fernstrom, 2006).
Not only has obesity been labeled as a physical health concern, but also according to Dr. Michael D Myers (2009), consistent weight gain may be considered psychological. Myers has been lecturing about and treating obesity and eating disorders since 1980. More than 30% of individuals seeking medical treatment for obesity and up to half of the individuals being seen in nonmedical weight-reduction programs meet the criteria for binge eating disorder, which is usually associated with major depression. Binge eating disorder tends to occur when a person is experiencing emotional pain at a high intensity, and struggles to manage the conflict healthily. This person usually was taught how to express his or her feelings when being brought up. “Feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and loneliness and difficult family and personal relationships may all play a part.”
In opposition of Dr. Myers diagnosis, Dr. Sharma (2012), professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, refers to overeating as normal and natural human behaviors. He is opposed to classifying overeating as a mental health issue like depression, bipolar, or PTSD. As Dr. Sharma states, “While mental health problems can undeniably contribute to or complicate obesity, let us by no means assume that everyone with excess weight must somehow have a mental health problem – the vast majority of overweight and obese individuals do not.”
One may cope with their problems by eating excessive amounts, but this habit should be categorized as a mental disorder. Excessive eating can lead to bigger problems though, such as cancer. Two out of every three adults is overweight or obese, which seems to be a contributor to the rising rates for cancer of the esophagus, uterus, pancreas and kidney. Experts say, “Excess weight triggers production of insulin and certain hormones that can play a role in cancer growth” (Stobbe, 2012).
Not only has smoking been one of the top contributors to lung cancer and heart disease, but excess weight gain is a factor as well. John Seffrin (2012), the Cancer Society’s chief executive officer stated, “For people who do not smoke, excess weight and lack of sufficient physical activity may be among the most important factors for cancer.”
Not only do American adults slack at physical activity, but the children of America do as well. “If you balance your meals and you move your buns, you will live longer. If you are kind to your body, your body is kind to you,” states Fitness-guru Richard Simmons. Back in 2008, Simmons was surveying parents, teachers, principals and superintendents for more ideas to bring to his congressional hearing in Washington. “Some schools have 15 minutes two days a week for PE classes, and a lot of schools don’t have recess. When you take the physical activity and the recesses away, these kids are just sitting in the classroom all day,” said Simmons. For his hearing, he wanted to suggest that the school systems should have certified fitness instructors teach classes in aerobics, yoga or Pilates during the school day. Simmons believes that physical activity positively affects a child’s work ethic. When a child is a given a break to do some type of physical activity, he or she comes back to the classroom ready to work harder. As Simmons puts it, “a kid who moves is a kid who learns (Hellmich, USA Today, 2008).”
Joseph Thompson, director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, made a transformation in the school systems back in 2004. Arkansas had the highest rates of childhood obesity. In 2004, the state began tracking the BMI of more than 400,000 children and sent confidential health reports to the parents. Junk food was eliminated in all electuary schools – a gradually more common policy in America – and added half an hour of physical education to the school curriculum (Time, Walsh, 2008).
Similar to Arkansas, in 2003, California started banning sugary sodas from public schools – an alternation that other schools started to abide by. Eventually, major soft-drink companies agreed to withdraw all high-calories sodas from by schools by 2009. Now in Arizona, a state that has struggled with high obesity rates, the schools are growing their own gardens in order to supply the cafeteria with fresh and healthy vegetables. Today at least 17 states have set nutritional standards for school meals that are stricter than those demanded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Time, Walsh, 2008).
Amongst children, adolescents and adults there has been tardiness in physical activity. Today we have more distractions which makes going to the gym or going for a jog more difficult. “As a kid, I was on my bike or in the woods more often than I was at the dinner table,” Cheryl Davey said. “Teenagers today are spending all of their time sitting in classrooms, hunched over their laptops or watching television. Today’s technology is making it more difficult to get up and go when we can access anything just by a click of a button.” Although there are retail stores like Torrid that promote “curvy” as sexy as “petite,” there are still health risks that accompany one’s choice of lifestyle. A girl may want to feel comfortable showing off her voluptuous figure, but it may come with consequences. As Steven Blair, from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, put it in a story for Runner’s World, “Fitness, not fatness, is the more important issue. (Moon, 2009)”
Moon, A. (2009). A culture obsessed with thinness propagates misconceptions about obesity. How Should Obesity be Treated? Retrieved from Opposing Viewpoints.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d) U.S. Obesity Trends. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html
Bumgardner, W. (2011, November 11). How Much Exercise Do You Need? And What Kind? Retrieved from http://walking.about.com/od/fitness/a/exercise2007.html
KFC Nutrition Guide (n.d) Retrieved from http://www.kfc.com/nutrition/pdf/kfc_nutrition.pdf
Fernstrom, M. (2006, July 10) Carbs: the good, the bad, and the ugly Retrieved from
Hellmich, N. USA Today (2008, July 25) Richard Simmons pushes kids to get active in school Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2008-07-22-richard-simmons-hearing_N.htm
Walsh, B. (2008, June 12) It’s not just genetics. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com
Stobbe, M. (2012, March 9) Cancer rates decline overall, but obesity and tanning lead to upticks. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com
Dr. Sharma, A. (2012, January 27) Obesity is not a mental illness. Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes. Retrieved from http://www.drsharma.ca/obesity-is-not-a-mental-illness.html