art is courtesy of Hans Neprud
In 1966 when I joined the Marine Corps at 17, I was about 5’9” and had a BMI (Body Mass Index) number of 19.9, weighing 135 lbs. I wasn’t that far off from being considered underweight, which calculates at a BMI of less than 18.5. For the next 15 plus years, following my marriage and raising two kids, I stayed within that normal BMI weight range, somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9. Today, at 63, I weigh 220 at 5’ 10” with a BMI of 31.6. A measurement that depressingly puts me into the category of obese, which is anything over 30.0.
Though it shouldn’t have, this information caught me off guard. I knew I was overweight and I was consciously trying to lose it. I’ve been eating right more than before and I walk about 2 miles religiously everyday – rain, snow or heat. The result has been nearly a 20 lb. weight loss yet, as indicated above, I still fall within that “obese” range. A recent Reuters article informs us that as a nation we are more fatter than was previously thought:
The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or “morbid” obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent. – SOURCE
I went to a site like this one and put in my own height/weight information to discover I was not merely overweight any more, but officially “obese”. I and millions like me are succumbing to a disease that apparently is now worse than what smoking contributes to. The irony here is perhaps not lost on many who, like myself, when you quit smoking, find other habits to compensate for the psychological “pleasure” loss that you had when inhaling large amounts of nicotine. For most of us that translates into eating more. I quit smoking in 1980 and within a couple of short years I was inching over that 24.9 BMI limit for normal weight.
This weight increase is not only creating a poorer quality of health for me and others who hit the high BMI ranges, but it puts a burden on economic costs, negatively impacting our society by wasting resources that would be better spent on improving our quality of life. The Reuters report I read with this information points out that this added weight not only increases health care costs for everyone, including those of normal weight, but greater amounts of fuel are required with all forms of transportation necessary to carry the heavier weight loads. This is negatively impacting our need as a nation to reduce our need for foreign fuel sources which approximately 75% comes from. The fact that our own supplies are limited doesn’t help either.
Here are some of the other relevant data pointed out in the article:
- Employers can charge obese workers 30 percent to 50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in a qualified wellness program.
- Compared to non-obese workers, obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year; the most obese women, 9.4 days more.
- Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year
- The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost of “presenteeism” due to obesity: $30 billion.
- The obese are less likely to be hired and promoted than their svelte peers are.
- Lower productivity on the job from obesity can result in reduced wages
It appears that the consequences of weight gain are so serious that action on a grand scale needs to take effect but can we force conditions on people to lose and monitor their weight without incurring the wrath of those who are already on the war path about “government over reach”? Yet it seems necessary that people in positions of leadership will have to weigh this issue relevant to certain economic needs. For example, allowing for broader girths, door sizes in public buildings will likely need to be widened as well as the seating in venues that accommodate large crowds like stadiums and concert halls.
One way we can deal with this disease is to recognize that it is indeed and illness that sheer will power alone cannot prevent. Eating has become a substitute for many people to replace pleasure losses that used to come naturally as a result of family and financial stability, good health and personal achievements.
According to Dr. Nora Volkow, who is head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, eating disorders arise when we substitute food for those more healthy acts that release dopamine.
“Dopamine so happens to be one of the main chemicals regulating pleasure centers in the brain. And as such, it’s therefore the mechanism by which nature motivates our behavior. At the most basic level, dopamine has saved us from extinction by making the key elements for survival of the species – food and sex – pleasurable. Dopamine sends signals to receptors in the brain saying: this feels good.
It just basically stimulates release of dopamine. And the more they release, the more they want the food. We always say, “Well, why do we have a problem with obesity in our society?” And I said, “My God, we’re surrounded by stimuli with which we’re conditioned. If you like hamburgers you may see that McDonald’s yellow arches and then dopamine goes inside your brain and you want it. And you don’t know why you want it.” SOURCE
As stress is introduced into our lives the dopamine rush we used get from happiness events like playing team sports, youthful romances and getting our first car becomes weakened as we assimilate into a 5-day work week, the less romantic give and take of marriage, especially with kids, and the financial responsibility incumbent upon us to maintain a home and be a good provider for our family.
The natural pleasure we derive from eating was part of that lifestyle that kept us alive and active as we hunted or grew our own food, provided shelter we built ourselves and traveled by means that didn’t come with a combustible engine; rewarding activities capable of generating a supply of dopamine to the system. With today’s abundant free time and easy access to today’s processed food with its more addictive ingredients, food becomes an easy and unhealthy source for dopamine rushes. Combine this with a lifestyle where we no longer expend any quantifiable energy to go from point A to point B thanks to the automobile and where outdoor activities are replaced by video games and on-line social interaction, then it becomes apparent why obesity has become the number one health threat to us all.
Elders like myself lose the energy necessary to engage in those activities that generate a release of “feel good” dopamine. Unless we are among those late in life with a healthy metabolism rate that prevents fat build-up in our bodies we are subject to faster weight gain not only from a lack of physical activity but from the wrong kind and amounts of foods. Eating is one of the few things left we are still capable of doing to elicit a shot of dopamine from the brain.
But unlike a young friend of mine I work with at the catering service, weight is less a concern for me relative to my looks. I’m more focused on health considerations; staying healthy and avoiding costly medical expenses that could put my wife and I in a serious financial bind. With Renee, however, age 25, her biggest concern is how her obesity affects her self-esteem.
“My obesity has caused depression about myself, and thus had an affect on my relationships with my husband, family, and friends”, ” she tells me. For the last 2 or so years since I reached “obese” on the scale, I have found that it has effected my self esteem most. I have told myself I’m concerned about my health, but when it boils down to it, I’m more concerned about how ‘fat’ i look in my clothes, in the mirror, etc. But I do believe this is a common problem among women-which is a whole other topic in itself.”
Recently Renee discovered that a close family relative on her Mom’s side had been diagnosed with diabetes. “This makes for four people who have or have had diabetes on that side of the family. So, my new concern is developing into a worry for my future. I would not only like to feel better about myself, but I am ready to begin a healthier lifestyle that will keep me away from further disease”.
Though Renee is obviously an adult, researchers have recently found that childhood diabetes , a condition of obesity, is on the rise in this country and the experts say when the weight goes on too early in life, it is that much harder to get it off and keep it off.
Each year, more than 3,600 American kids are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition once reserved for overweight adults. And in half of those kids, traditional treatments don’t work, a new study found.
The fact that kids are developing early stages of obesity tells us that they too are using food to replace that dopamine shot lost as a result of unstable family situations. Over the last 30 years as the income disparity in this country has grown with stagnant or even decreased wages, more families today are experiencing economic conditions that get negatively played out at home. Children also seem to be experiencing an increase in threats from bullies and predatory pedophiles, all of which makes them more conducive to excessive and unhealthy eating.
Then and Now: In 1980 I was still within a normal weight BMI. Today bad eating habits have taken their toll.
The added pressures we all face today, adults and children alike, along with a more sedentary lifestyle makes us the most susceptible generation to kill ourselves off with an unhealthy oral gratification to satisfy a natural urge intended to keep us alive.
I’m not advocating governmental policies that restrict our choices of what to eat. But it only seems practical that we should be able to rely on government agencies who gather relevant data and distribute it to the public in a vigorous manner so we can make sound, healthy choices. Such information should compete with the private sectors marketing techniques and timing that encourages bad diets or behavior.
I’m sure there will an uproar by many businesses and their corporate-friendly cronies in local, state and federal legislatures who will bemoan the fact that this will hurt profits. But it should be the purpose of a representative government to enable all constituencies. Not just those who are more capable of filling campaign coffers each election cycle. In the true spirit of capitalism, entrepreneurs should be doing what helps their self-interests in ways that consumers see them as being helpful to them at least as much as they are to their investors.
It seems clear though that even if our government sought ways to reduce these risks on our behalf it would most likely fail unless each of us come to grips with why we eat in excess of what we need. We somehow need to find a way to circumvent the ease of using food to generate a state of pleasure we derive for doing those things that serve to sustain us. Unless we do, more and more of us will depart this world sooner than we should from our obesity. The only thing we can hope for if we don’t is that we die long before we incur a huge medical bill that our families will be left to deal with.