The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update


February 7, 2013

Viewpoint: ‘The Weight of the Nation’ illustrates issue in Madison County

In January, United Way of Madison County and the Madison Health Partners screened the four-part HBO Documentary called “The Weight of the Nation.” We felt the documentary was such a powerful film that residents would leave with a deeper understanding of the enormity of the obesity epidemic and momentum would build around combating the epidemic. The film goes to great lengths to illustrate the most pressing issues driving the rise in obesity and the effect that obesity has in our country.

The most startling statement from the documentary comes from their predications on what impact the obesity epidemic will have on our children. We know that being overweight as a child puts you at a much higher risk of being overweight as an adult. Before 1980, approximately 5 percent of children were overweight; today that number is 15 percent. Medical providers are already seeing an increase in Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels in today’s children. These things were unheard of 30 years ago. One out of three children alive today will develop diabetes in their lifetime and that number is two out of three for African-American and Hispanic children. Children born today are facing a shorter lifespan straddled with the financial burden of paying to treat so many preventable diseases.

The documentary illuminated some of the economic forces that have thrust the obesity epidemic to new heights. Neighborhoods have lost their local grocery stores and residents must rely on high-calorie, low-nutrition prepackaged food in convenience stores within walking distance. Many poor neighborhoods lack the infrastructure needed to foster healthy families. Dilapidated playgrounds, lack of sidewalks and unsafe streets keep families inside and in front of the television. Schools often must sacrifice nutrition for efficiency as they struggle to feed hundreds of children with ever decreasing budgets.

Our own biology can work against us when we focus on losing weight. Overeating is hardwired into our biology because it allows humans to store extra energy as fat for times when food was scarce. In a time of nearly unlimited cheap food high in fat and sugar, we find it impossible to ignore these cravings to consume energy-dense foods. Food and beverage advertising is nearly ubiquitous and challenges the most steadfast person not to indulge. Even people who have lost extra weight find that their metabolism has permanently changed, and will always have to exercise more and eat less compared to a similar person who did not gain the extra weight to begin with.

By screening “The Weight of the Nation,” we have made the first steps in combating the obesity epidemic. We need help from every corner of Madison County to take the next step and screen this documentary in schools, churches and neighborhoods. If you are interested in helping us connect to families in your neighborhood, call United Way of Madison County at 765-643-7493. We can work with you to provide the DVDs and screening tools needed to host a successful screening event.

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