Monday, February 17, 2014

GHU Reflection Series: Obesity

This week, we watched a video about obesity in America, and a few GlobeMed members wanted to reflect on it!

I was shocked that one single grilled cheese sandwich could have 75% of the daily recommended value of sodium. I think regulating sodium uptake is one of the biggest challenges in the American diet because it everywhere but often goes unnoticed. 

I have two comments to make. The first is that nutrition is not only plagued by obesity, but also malnutrition. I have a friend from my highschool who is both anemic and an extremely strict vegan, and she uses a fear of obesity as a justification for failing to provide herself enough nutrition to maintain a reasonable weight and bmi. So, obesity is a large issue, but if helping nutrition is of concern to this group, the whole issue should considered. Secondly, obesity is considered a highly an "american" issue. And while it is true that other places in the world suffer from increased obesity, the immensely high amounts of obesity are due to the quintessence of the american approach to living. In america, everything is always done in a rush to try to fit as much as possible in, and as a result nutrition often falls into the back burners. Rather than stopping to have well planned out meals twice a day, as is the custom in many European and African countries, we have three microwave meals a day and stuff our faces in-between with all kinds of non-perishable snacks. There might be economical or governmental ways of helping the US obesity issue, but it truly comes down to a social issue.

Our ghU discussion about obesity and nutrition reminded me of an amazing documentary I watched on the topic called A Place at the Table. See the trailer here! The film gets at issues of food insecurity in the US at a personal and policy-making level. At Amherst we have constant access to unlimited amounts of nutritious food in our dining hall which makes it hard to take a step back and realize that tens of millions of people in this country can't afford to feed their families. The reliance on low-cost processed foods that limited funds force (particularly through our woefully inadequate food stamps program) is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic.

I found the video today very interesting because it highlights the lack of awareness about nutrition in America. The woman in the video greatly underestimated the sodium content of her sandwich, which reflects a common trend in the U.S. today: Despite campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy diet, many Americans still don't read or understand nutritional labels. 

In GHU we learned and discussed a lot about the epidemic of obesity. While it seems like the main goals in overcoming this epidemic are to increase education about and access to nutritional foods, I realized that a smaller portion of the problem also could come from habit. Some people are fortunate enough to have both education and access to healthy foods, but sometimes we still choose to go for the delicious, salty, fatty comfort food. It's not only a matter of providing the right circumstances to make good choices, but also understanding behavior and the difficulty of making big lifestyle changes.

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