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Is The Nutritional State of Our Nation Improving?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By now, most of us are well aware that many things have changed over the last two years since the First Lady launched the Let's Move campaign. We have seen improved restaurant labeling as well as diet friendly sections on menus to help people make informed decisions when eating away from home. The new national food icon MyPlate has become a tool referenced in school health curriculums, by nutrition educators, and in marketing campaigns. Add the recent release of the updated school lunch recommendations and you can see the breadth and width of change aimed at helping Americans achieve a healthy weight.
We know that as our weight increases, so does our risk of developing medical conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and strokes to name a few. Beginning in 1997, standardizing classifications for overweight and obesity were adopted. Someone is defined as overweight when his or her body mass index (BMI) is 25 or higher. Obesity is defined by a BMI exceeding 30. Obesity is further clarified as Class I Obesity with a BMI of 30.0-34.9, Class II between 35.0-34.9, and Class III is a BMI greater than 40.
The first Dietary Goals for The United States were introduced in February of 1977 in a report prepared for the Select Committee of the Senate on Nutrition and Human Needs. The primary reason for the guidelines was to provide a practical guide to good eating since the research indicated the public was confused about what to eat to maximize health. So have we gotten healthier over the last three decades with healthy eating guidelines?

The 1977 research results revealed that too much fat, sugar and salt where directly linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, and stroke among other diseases. At that time, six of the ten leading causes of death in the United States were linked to diet. Here are some interesting statistics from the CDC that reflect where we are today:
  • Seven of the ten leading causes of death in the United States are a result of chronic diseases with heart disease leading the way.
  • Obesity related medical spending cost the nation $147 billion in 2008.
  • As of 2005, nearly one in two adults has at least one chronic illness.
  • Heart disease, cancer, and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% in women.
  • One in every three adults (35.5%) is obese and almost one in five youth between the age of six and nineteen is obese.
  • Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for the majority of the chronic diseases. All four of these are modifiable health risk behaviors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adult obesity rates have doubled over the past two decades. While the percentage of children that are above their normal weight has doubled over the last two decades as well and tripled for adolescents over the same amount of time. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) began routinely evaluating the health and nutritional status of Americans in the nineteen sixties. When you review the weight trends from the 1960s to 2000, you find that the percentage of American adults that are obese has increased over the four decades. At the same time, the percentage of healthy weight adults has declined.
Between 1960 and 1980, there was little change in weight with an estimated 15 percent of adults categorized as obese. However, between 1980 and 1991, there was a significant increase in the rate of obesity in America. The rate of obesity in men rose from 13 to 21 percent while the rate in women was higher moving from 17 to 26 percent. That tendency continued and by the year 2000, the obesity rate in men had risen to 28 percent and to an alarming 34 percent in women. With such a national focus on health and fitness centers around every corner, you would expect that this rate decreased a decade later right. Well, that would be true for women who didn't see a significant change over a decade even though 36 percent of women were considered obese in 2010. Regrettably, the obesity rate for men continued to climb and by 2010, the rate was at an all-time high of 35 percent as well.  
So what is the answer the original question? No, the nutritional state of our nation is not improving. It is encouraging to see that women are making some positive changes in their lives that are reflected in a stabilized rate of obesity over the last decade. However, it is discouraging to see that the obesity rate in men has continued to rise. While none of us may want to go back to the 1960's, it would be beneficial to reflect on how day-to-day life then compares to now especially when it comes to food and activity. That comparison may shed light on what needs to change if our nation is to reach the First Ladies goal of "solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation." Whether you directly influence children in your daily life or not, it is important for all of us to reduce our risks of chronic disease and set a positive example. Setting and achieving goals that actively modify the four health risk behaviors is a great start.   
Let's brain storm! Share your thoughts and ideas --
  • What has changed in daily life between 1960 and 2010 that has caused such an increase in the obesity rate?
  • What changed in the 1980's that led to the big obesity rate increase that continues today?
  • What still needs to be done today to begin lowering the national obesity rate?