Food for Thought: Is a French Fry a Vegetable? the Cost of Healthy Foods and the Lack of Physical Activity among Children and Teenagers Are Fueling the Obesity Epidemic

Article excerpt

Bottom line? Too many people cannot afford to eat healthy. Well, the truth is they can't afford not to eat healthy, but eating healthy foods is too expensive. A grocery store I was in recently had a nice display of personal-size cantaloupes with a sign for $1.49. What wasn't so well displayed on the sign was that the price was $1.49 per pound. One mini personal cantaloupe really cost $6.20. Likewise, a small bag of black grapes came to $7.60. These were at a basic grocery store and not organic produce. "I can't afford these prices," one mother said to a friend. "I can buy two boxes of fruit snacks for what it would cost me for one small serving of fresh fruit."

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Improving Health in Children Takes Center Stage

In 2010, the television show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution brought the issue of school and family nutrition to the forefront of public consciousness. Oliver accomplished a shock effect when he reported that this current generation may very well be the first not expected to outlive their parents.

At the time, West Virginia was statistically one of the unhealthiest states with the most obese residents. Oliver chose to film his first program there as he attempted to help families become healthy at home--and at schools because that is where many kids develop their eating habits. He met with a significant amount of resistance from students, as well as cafeteria workers and administrators who have to follow specific dietary guidelines.

Oliver expressed disbelief when he was told he could not serve a veggiefilled stir-fry containing fresh vegetables because it lacked the minimum number of vegetables required by state-mandated guidelines. Instead, he was asked to alter the dish to include french fries, which counted as a "vegetable." Go figure.

Also in 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched an initiative focusing on fitness and food: Let's Move: America's Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. The First Lady has often been quoted as saying that America won't solve its problems just by passing laws in Washington, D.C. Instead, her initiative brings together states and communities, as well as nonprofit and for-profit private sectors, in partnership as a new independent foundation: Partnership for a Healthier America.

To be sure, the statistics are grim. As noted in a press release for Let's Move!, research from the Centers for Disease Control reports that childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades, as nearly one in three children are overweight or obese.

CDC research also states that one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives, and many others will face chronic obesityrelated health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. A more recent CDC study put the healthcare costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year.

We know that stopping childhood obesity isn't just the job of government, or doctors, or community organizations. We all have a role to play. Communities have been the driving force behind Let's Move! People and organizations from all over the United States, such as Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have stepped up. Companies such as Wal-Mart have also joined the cause by requiring their stores to sell food grown within a certain radius of the store.

Choose Sustainability to Improve Safety and Security

The obesity epidemic is really weighing the nation down. Indeed, our increasing size affects the nation's safety and security.

Obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service. For example, according to the Federal Register, effective December 1, 2011, the United States Coast Guard will amend regulations that govern the maximum weight and number of passengers for vessel safety, including increasing the assumed average weight per person (AAWPP) from 140 to 185 pounds. …