Tonight, CBS news reported on the growing obesity problem in the US. Projected figures showed my home state as surpassing 50% by 2018. Of course, the usual questions were hauled-up again, without any new answers. Yes, processed foods and high fructose corn syrup are probably killing us. Exercise more? Eat less? We’ve been doing both and we’re still expanding. It’s possible that the American way of life, The Suburban Ideal, may be the ultimate cause. And, the cause could be as simple as our municipal zoning laws.
So many questions about America’s problems can be answered by getting out of America. When you leave, you get to see people who have universal healthcare which causes about as much social unrest as a shoe-store closing. You find people with basic understanding that educational systems are products of the funding and standards you put into them (And that science and engineering instruction is a source prosperity.. not a source of fear and disgust). And interestingly, you’ll find cultures that are now wrapped in the widespread use of soft-drinks and fast foods by their children and are now facing diabetes in their families for the first time. Oddly, they’re not ‘fat’ and that distinction is supremely important.
I know that here in the U.S., this sounds impossible because we’ve been told that fat=health problems. The only way to get rid of the problems it to get rid of the fat. However, not all fat people are diabetic; not all thin people are healthy. And, the numbers worldwide make it appear like something else going wrong in the U.S. Leaving the US can show you how ‘abnormal’ we, and our medical beliefs, truly are. Imagine that diabetes and high blood pressure aren’t a function of weight gain. Even though American doctors are taught that they go hand-in-hand, they don’t. Across the world, high-blood pressure and diabetes diagnoses are increasing, but they don’t correctly correlate with obesity rates. They do correlate with increased intake of processed foods in a culture. We, as a society, need to stop being distracted by claims of these disorders being caused by obesity. These are separate fights. Only severe obesity (a minuscule percentage of the population) will compromise pancreatic function or disregulate blood pressure. But likewise, we also need to address that fact that treatment of these disorders will not make us healthy. The obesity will remain.
Overeating is a misnomer. Many people do overeat, but overeating isn’t the cause. Oddly, many people aren’t getting enough calories. But, the food isn’t the cause.
The ADA’s 2500 calorie/day recommendation is fine for a normal life. Healthy people around the world eat much more than the ADA’s wishes, including diets containing “unhealthy” quantities of fats. The American ‘vehicle-based’ life would necessitate a restriction to less than 100o a day. No person, American, African, Asian, healthy, sick, old, or young, considers 1000 calories realistic (unless you’re dying). Food, though important, obviously isn’t an answer.
THE BIG WORKOUT
Exercise should be helping us. Massive public education campaigns have spurred the flourishing of gyms and gym memberships. Exercise, as a pastime, is now big-business. But, we continue to expand. Polls show more and more exercise in the American population. So, what’s our causing our obesity?
Outside the US, frenetic exercise is reserved for athletes. Many people will jog or occasionally lift weights at the most. But, anything more technical is left to professionals. How can other populations have such low BMI’s without the sweat? The secret isn’t “EXERCISE”; It’s “ACTIVITY.” Outside the U.S. populations that live exclusively in metropolitan areas, We drive to work and WALK into an elevator. We drive to stores, friend’s homes, and movies. We then drive home. We don’t do this because we like driving. We DO like driving, but that’s not the motivator. We drive because we must.
IN THE ‘ZONE’
Many decades ago, all cities enacted zoning laws to separate business districts from living areas. In fact, some cities evolved into ‘bedroom’ cities regularly supplying labor to a nearby industrial/commercial area, while having little employment of their own. This was done to foster the American suburban ideal. Large rows of single-family homes, white-picket fences, sanitized streets, but with the requirement that we sit on our butts for significant periods of time everyday just to get where we need to go. This evolved into the ‘Car-Culture’ that we take so dear. Unfortunately, we’ve now molded our lives around driving instead of walking, and we’ve suffered.
Walking where we need to go provides large quantities of ‘Activity’. It may not make us sweat, but it’s this constant, low-impact movement is what separates us from the rest of the world. Where we drive, they walk. We drive to faraway places because we are not allowed to CREATE jobs where we live. Our zoning laws dictate that they must be far away in order to preserve the myth of suburbia.
It’s possible that our perfect, sanitized goal may be what is bloating us. Putting ‘exercise’ into a conceptual box and relegating it to a predefined hour of the day is biologically unnatural. It is very possible that the messier, less convenient, less municipally controlled way of life, was the only one we should have ever had.
And, if regularly hoofing-it keeps us from carrying huge cases of Pepsi home, I for one, will be better-off. Maybe then, we can work on that diabetes-thing. Like I said, it’s a separate issue.