Obesity Wars: A New Hope

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 0 comments »

By Steve Edwards

We at Beachbody® are at war against the most formidable opponent the United States has ever faced: obesity. It's killing more people a month than our two other more high-profile combatants—terror and drugs—have killed this decade. Obesity is the Darth Vader of all the dangers we'll face in our lifetimes. Smoking once ruled our universe, but a new master has taken over the dark side. Here, in the final installment of our latest trilogy on obesity, we offer a new hope of getting the force back on our side.

As usual, we begin in what appear to be ever darkening times. Just last week, a report was released showing that an obese 10-year-old kid may have the arteries of a 45-year-old. Each time we offer a solution, the obesity empire rebuffs our efforts. Earlier this year, we released Shaun T's Fit Kids Club. Vader laughed as our infant mortality rate skyrocketed compared to the rest of the world. We offered Kathy Smith's Project:YOU! Type 2 and then saw the number of people who either are pre-diabetic or are already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes skyrocket to nearly a third of our population. Earlier this month, we offered 10 solutions to the epidemic. Last week, we're told that over half our kids are projected to be obese within a generation. Admittedly, things look bleak for the rebellion. But read on and you'll see that we don't need a Jedi to guide us in this war. The force is very powerful. And it's controlled by us.

In the film Idiocracy, we're offered a glimpse at a possible future should we continue to follow our current patterns of regression. In the film, society has devolved into an anti-intellectual state completely controlled by corporate advertising interests. We're at a crossroads—we're watering our plants with a version of Gatorade, the only beverage we consume, and our plants will no longer grow. The corporate-controlled Food and Drug Administration's food pyramid features nothing but fast food, sports drinks, and mind-altering legal substances: alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. And while it's an over-the-top comedy, one can't wonder whether the most unbelievable thing in the movie is that it's set 500 years in the future. At the rate we're going, we could be living—or at least eating—this way before the end of this millennium.

Case in point: The latest studies on obese children. At the American Heart Association's conference last week, two studies, done independently in different countries, showed that obese children had a "vascular age about 30 years older than their actual age." This, of course, greatly increases their chances for heart disease. So much so, in fact, that the American Academy for Pediatrics is now recommending cholesterol-lowering drugs for some children. "As the old saying goes, you're as old as your arteries are," said Dr. Geetha Raghuveer of Children's Hospital in Kansas City, to the Associated Press. "This is a wake-up call."

But the wake-up call needs to ring louder. How we've become so unconcerned with our health isn't a mystery. We've simply followed marketing trends, which have seen junky foods and other easily consumable items become more and more a mainstay in our diets. Gas stations and convenience stores are filled with virtually nothing but junk food and drug-filled beverages. Supermarkets are only slightly better, placing their healthy items on the fringes and filling the middle aisles with premade medleys of genetically modified corn and soy. The companies that have become successful marketing this said junk now dominate our airwaves to the point where a person dropped into an American city could easily assume that we, indeed, do live primarily on fast food, sports drinks, and mind-altering legal substances.

Our next wartime strategy is going to be to consolidate our resources and simplify. If society's attention spans are dwindling, we'll offer a simple three-point plan to unify our rebellion. With or without the help of Obi Wan, this might be our only hope.

  1. Exercise. Somehow, someway, we need to find a way to exercise more. Exercise levels have fallen dramatically over the last 30 years, and our health has gone along with it. Nothing has a greater effect on our health than exercise. It's only through exercise that our bodies produce hormones at healthy levels. And if we exercise enough, it even combats an unhealthy diet.

    Unfortunately, we're doing a lot less instead of more—especially as children. It's estimated that children get somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent less exercise than they did in the 1970s. Oddly enough, this decline is almost inverse to the rise of obesity rates among the same group.

    The solution to this might be as easy as turning off the TV. The American Journal of Public Health published a survey stating that 59 percent of children watched between 2 and 4 hours of TV and an additional 22 percent watched 5 or more hours per day—which didn't include hours in front of the computer. This is more TV than any kid I grew up with was allowed to watch. We didn't watch this much TV in a week. Children are easily bored. Take away their TV (and computer games), and there's a pretty good chance they'll end up doing something active.
  2. Eliminate soft drinks (including "energy" and sports drinks). It's estimated that American teenagers are getting around 15 percent of their total calories from soft drinks. Consider that this 15 percent contains nary a useful calorie, and you can see how these drinks can be problematic.

    We don't need any sugar in our diets, but we get a lot of it. When we find sugars in nature, they're generally wrapped around other nutrients that minimize their negative effects and actuate their positive effects. In candy and, especially, beverages, sugar's negative effects are enhanced by the formulations because they are designed to perform more like drugs than nutrients. This effect, commonly known as a sugar rush, does a lot more harm than when we experience a sugar crash. This rush and crash effect is one of the conditions that leads to type 2 diabetes—the world's fastest growing illness.

    Energy and sports drinks can be effective for sports. Unfortunately, they are rarely used for these activities anymore. In fact, they are commonly used for exactly the opposite—to give us an artificial high that we once induced by actually exercising.
  3. Effect change in local government. Our ancestors went through a lot of trouble to set up a government under that moniker "of the people, for the people, and by the people." We've let their hard work fall by the wayside, as we've become victims of the new American cry "of the corporation, by the lobbyist, and for the shareholders." But corporations, in reality, still work for us. And making changes is less daunting than it seems.
    When deregulation began in earnest back in the late 1960s, the United States sat among the top of the statistical world in education, health care, infant mortality rates, and life expectancy. We've been steadily declining. In all of those categories, we now rate near the bottom of what we refer to as "first-world" countries. This has happened while the top 1 percent of our country has become exceedingly rich and our middle class has all but disappeared. Our society became lazy and complacent about our world status. Now our statistical leadership among modern nations has been relegated to the obesity epidemic.

    Fortunately, our government still reacts to our bidding. Individuals can—and do—effect change in the way we do business. We have many examples of Beachbody members who have promoted effective change on the health of their local communities. Your school's lunch program, the effectiveness of that school's recess periods and afterschool recreation opportunities, and even the type of foods carried by your local market are all controlled by you.

    Our government wasn't set up to tell us what to do. It was set up for us to tell it what we want. By accepting policies and reacting to marketing schemes that lower our quality of life, we've been acquiescing to a doctrine that doesn't have our health in mind. And all we really need to do to change it is to realize we've been duped and demand something different.

    You don't need to run for office to effect change. Steps as simple as taking interest in what your local market sells, that your community offers a farmers' market, that your schools serve decent food, that recess is not only offered in school but is enforced are all simple steps that lead to real results. Because the obesity epidemic isn't a plague, it doesn't require doctors, politicians, or Jedi Knights to change it. It only requires simple alterations that anyone can make to his or her everyday life. Anyone can eat better, exercise more, lose weight, and get healthy. And anyone can inspire others to do the same. And, like the force, when our collective individual minds change, we effect change across the world.