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The American Diet: Citizens are putting themselves at a higher risk for disease

I. Introduction

The prevalence of overweight and obese Americans is greater than ever and increasing at an alarming rate. This has become an epidemic in the United States. Never before have we seen such staggering statistics. The percentage of the American population over age 20 that is overweight or obese is 66.3% [1]. One form of measurement is the Body Mass Index. This calculates the amount of body fat based on height and weight. This is not the most accurate of measurements due to if the weight of an individual is based on fat or muscle. This does provide a general analysis though if someone is overweight or not. In order to be classified as overweight an individual must have a BMI between 25 and 29.9 and to be termed obese a BMI of 30 or higher [2]. Something drastic has changed the American way of life and our eating habits. In 1960-62 the amount of overweight and obese Americas was at 44.8% [1]. That is over a 20% increase in just forty years. Society has become plagued with chronic diseases due to poor eating habits. Our biology has not changed. Social and psychological factors play a key role in the development of these diseases. There are grave consequences in the food choices today’s society is making. The average American today is putting themselves at an elevated risk for disease due to the poor food choices they are making.

Today’s time-poor society is focused on getting in quick meals on the go. The average American today consumes approximately one-third of their calories outside of the home [4]. It is this consumption of unhealthy food that is loaded with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol that is contributing to the decline of the health in America today. Everyone is at risk for developing health related problems due to poor eating habits because every human being needs to eat. However, certain groups are at an elevated risk due to culture, age, gender, and lifestyle. Typically, women are more health conscious than men and take better care of their health and eating habits [1]. Men in general are about 10% more overweight and obese compared with their women counterparts [1]. General findings conclude that race reveals an elevated percentage of African American women and Hispanics who are overweight [1]. Another important factor to look at is age. The percentage of overweight or obese people increases with age up to a certain point, after 55-64 years of age for men and 75 years of age for women the numbers decrease [1]. However, culture and age are not the only aspects that affect a person’s weight.

Healthy eating habits and biopsychosocial factors also have an effect. Most Americans do not get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Diets high in fruits and vegetables provide greater health benefits, such as a reduced risk of chronic diseases which include: stroke, cardiovascular disease, and cancer [3]. Diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in fat are cancer causing. Groups that are most likely to have diets low in fruits and vegetables are African Americans and those with lower incomes [5]. There are five categories that explain why this is so: “Intrapersonal level (taste preferences, habits, and nutritional knowledge and skills), Interpersonal level/social environment (processes whereby culture, social traditions, and role expectations impact eating practices; and patterns within peer groups, friends and family), and Organizational, Community, and Public Policy levels/physical environment (environmental factors that affect food access and availability),” [5]. This means that there are numerous factors playing a role in what we eat today. These factors include: what we were taught, preferences, social environment, community, and environmental factors, simply put, biopsychosocial factors. There are countless negative consequences of the average American diet: diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer to name a few. Cholesterol alone clogs arteries which causes cardiovascular disease and finally a heart attack, which is the number one killer in the United States. Fortunately, there is hope.

II. Etiology

Eating when food is readily available is a driving force of all human beings. This was what our ancestors did in order to survive. Our ancestors used to eat whenever they found food and as much as possible because they did not know when their next meal would be. Food was scarce. They ate foods rich in fat, protein, and sugar; the foods that would stick to the ribs and sustain them the longest. We are hard-wired to eat as often as possible and as much as possible. No wonder today the majority of Americans are overweight. There is no shortage of food today. Americans are constantly being bombarded with food advertisements. Just about every hour of the day Americans are receiving messages to eat more from supermarkets, advertisements, billboards, vending machines, and food displays [4]. Our social environment is by no means helping us.

Not only is our social environment subconsciously telling us to eat more and more but also for some people our psychological processes. Some people turn to food to fill a void, this is called emotional eating. People cope with problems differently, some try to tackle the problem head on while others choose avoidance. Some problems cannot be solved and people turn to various outlets for coping which also includes unhealthy food consumption.

Food has one main purpose: to sustain life. We have now turned it into the primary staple of any social gathering. Food is broken down into various components when eaten to extract the nutrients. There are fewer nutrients in much of the food eaten today, which equates to empty calories. Examples of empty calories would include: soda, pop, and candy. These just contain sugar. A substance most Americans need to consume less of. The foods that most diets lack today are fruits and vegetables. The changes that need to be made to the average American diet are increasing fruit and vegetable intake, switching from refined carbohydrates to whole wheat ones, cutting out candy and pop, and eating less red meat.

There are a few problem causing foods that vary from minor to major consequences. Monosodium glutamate is an additive for food flavor enhancing. MSG can cause short-term problems such as: headaches, flushing, sweating, sense of facial pressure or tightness, numbness or burning around the mouth, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and weakness [6]. There is no concrete evidence of long term problems associated with MSG as of now. More research needs to be done. Other problem components of foods today are sulfites, colorings, and preservatives. These have negative impacts on the body because they are not naturally occurring (excluding sulfites). For example, food coloring has been shown to have a link with hyperactivity in children. The body has to break down these foreign substances and that is not easily done. There is no nutritional value to food coloring.

Children are easily influenced. This makes them at a greater risk to eating poorly because they are more affected by the media and culture, their peers, and family. Obese children or children with high cholesterol are now showing early warning signs of heart disease [8]. This is unacceptable to have children and teenagers with arteries that resemble that of a 45-year-old [8]. Not only are they developing atherosclerosis but they are developing at an increasing rate Type 2 Diabetes [8]. Drastic measures need to be done to stop and reverse these effects.

Americans today heavily rely upon technology. Our lifestyle is much more sedentary than it has ever been in the past. With less physical activity, exercise and proper nutrition are more important than ever to keep Americans in healthy shape.

III. Treatments

There is a solution to help your health. The number one treatment would be to stop eating unhealthy foods and substitute those with health benefiting foods. It is quite a simple concept that many individuals have difficulty putting into action. When it comes down to it people have trouble with long term goals. They think a cookie now will not harm them and in addition it provides benefits right then and there. However, once we can change this frame of mind people will be greatly benefited.

There are a few ways to lose weight. First, change eating habits to eat healthy foods and cut out health negating foods. Second, add exercise. Third, if the patient is morbidly obese a surgery might be needed. Forth, if the patient cannot lose weight alone, there are many weight loss clinics that aid in the weight loss process. It has to be a decision made by the patient to really want to lose weight. Once their mind is made up there is little to be done to stop them from achieving success.

Many Americans just need to be educated on proper nutrition. They are uninformed on why certain foods are bad for them and the severe consequences of these foods. If more primary prevention was done when receiving a check-up, before medical conditions could arise, everyone would save money and the patient would be healthier.

Other methods are Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Therapy. Until the patient wants to eat healthy, exercise, and/or lose weight they won’t. No matter what is told to them. They have to want it themselves and come to that conclusion. Motivational Interviewing can be used to help them come to that conclusion. Then cognitive therapy can be used to help with treatment to get them going down the right path.

Drugs can be used also as treatment in certain cases. If the underlying problem for a client was depression due to a brain chemical imbalance then medication would be appropriate. After the underlying problem is fixed then it is possible to help the client with changing their eating behavior. There is no drug however that would negate all effects of poor eating.

There is one city that seems to understand how to live a healthy life: Burlington, Vermont. Approximately 92% of their population in this city is in good or great health [7]. If they can do it, so can other cities. This city is one of the highest for doing regular exercise and lowest for obesity, diabetes, and other measures of poor health [7]. A few key components of their demographics are: younger, financially secure, educated, and white [7]. Their culture is also different. Exercise and physical activities are a large part of the culture. If every city in the US could change some habits to become more like Burlington they would all be better off.

There are some foods that are health enhancing. These foods include: omega-3s, certain types of fish, flaxseed, vegetables, fruit, and soy. The omega-3s are types of oils found in flaxseed, olive oils, avocado, fatty fish, and most nuts. These help lower triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure to reduce the risk of certain cancers [9]. Antioxidants also are health promoting. Antioxidants help fight free radicals in the body that destroy the DNA of cells [9]. The best antioxidants are foods rich in Vitamins C, E, and Beta-Carotene; green tea; and tomatoes [9]. A few different foods that decrease the risk of certain types of cancers are: fish, whole wheat products, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, apples, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tofu, and even the occasional glass of wine [9]. It is important to “Choose whole grains over the white, refined breads, rice, and pasta. The insoluble fiber in wheat bran can increase the transport of waste products and cancer-causing agents through the gut and lower intestines. The less time waste products spend in your system, the less risk of certain types of cancer such as colon and rectal” [9]. With a few modifications to the typical diet of today, Americans could be much healthier.

IV. Conclusions

The attempt to change the average American’s diet is a losing battle. People will not change unless they want to. Motivational Interviewing could come into play but realistically MI will not be able to transform this fat nation if the nation does not want to change. There are too many factors affecting people to eat the way they do, from the media and bombardment of advertisements on the TV, to peers, family, and culture. There really is no end in sight. The next step to solving this epidemic is more research. If more research were to be done on the health consequences of a poor diet, or the American diet, Americans might wake up. There is a fear of death in our society. If Americans were taught how to live a long healthy life by eating properly and the majority of Americans did this so as to not have a peer pressure present, then the American way of eating would change. But until we can get the majority of Americans eating healthier, we will suffer the consequences of being one of the fattest nations in the world. Americans are indolent, and when it comes to foods they are even more so. They want food that tastes great and is quick and easy. No effort required. If Americans were transformed from this lethargic way of life into how other societies function we would be much better off. There is no quick fix or even an end in sight. Not until half of the American population has suffered from heart disease (instead of one in five) will people wake up and realize just what has happened to our once great nation. Here is what Americans can take away from this: they need to start taking steps towards eating healthier or else the next step they take might be their last.

Reference List

1. Center for Health Statistics. (2008). Overweight [Online]. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm. (17 Nov. 2008).

2. Department of Health and Human Services-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Defining Overweight and Obesity [Online]. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/defining.htm. (18 Nov. 2008).

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fruit and Vegetable Benefits [Online]. Available: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/benefits/index.html#. (18 Nov. 2008).

4. Leon, W. & DeWaal, C.S. (2002). Is Our Food Safe? New York, New York.

5. Robinson, T. (2008). Applying the Socio-ecological Model to Improving Fruit and Vegetable Intake Among Low-Income African Americans. J Community Health 33:395–406. doi 10.1007/s10900-008-9109-5

6. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Is it harmful? [Online]. Available: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/monosodium-glutamate/AN01251. (18 Nov. 2008).

7. Stobbe, M. (2008 Nov. 16). Burlington, Vt., is healthiest city, CDC says. Yahoo! News. Retrieved from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081116/ap_on_he_me/med_healthiest_city

8. Belluck, P. (2008, Nov. 12). Obesity and High Cholesterol in Children Are Seen as Warning of Heart Disease. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://bl7gj4yv9n.search.serialssolutions.com/?SS_Source=3&genre=article&sid=ProQ:&atitle=Obesity%20and%20High%20Cholesterol%20in%20Children%20Are%20Seen%20as%20Warning%20of%20Heart%20Disease&title=New%20York%20Times&issn=03624331&date=11%2F12%2F2008&volume=&issue=&spage=A.16&SS_docid=000001592870681&author=Pam%20Belluck

9. Bauer, J. (2003). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition. United States of America.

Health ; Diet ; Food


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