Obesity and Smoking Are Our Country’s Death Knells

Nearly 65 percent of the U.S. population is overweight (body mass index or BMI of 25 kg/m2 or more), and 30.5 percent of the population is obese (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more). Needless to say, we have an issue with weight control and it is becoming a world wide problem due, in part, to the popularity of some of our least healthy restaurants (as witnessed by the explosion of McDonald’s) around the globe. The doubling in our obesity rates since 1987 has resulted in a 30% increase in healthcare costs. Poor diet, along with smoking and physical inactivity have been shown to be the root causes of almost 35% of deaths per year (that’s over 300,000). These are modifiable, preventable behaviors Americans! Better access to healthcare won’t do anything to change it.

Now a report in the British Medical Journal equated weight with cigarette smoking and premature death (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/health/news/article_1462196.php). They found overweight and obese teenagers faced similar risks of premature death in adulthood as adults who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day. The data included height, weight and muscle strength, as well as smoking and socio-economic status. The researchers tracked the participants until 2007 to study ‘all-cause mortality.’

The results showed a two-fold mortality (death) risk increase in both obese non-smoking men and men of normal weight who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day. Being overweight also increased the risk of premature death, irrespective of smoking status.

We must take some responsibility for how we treat our bodies and what these bad habits teach our children. We must also work in our communities to encourage public officials to support physical education and recess in our public schools and to spend more than $0.25 per meal for our school lunch programs.  I am reminded of a story where a girl wanted to know the recipe of a delicious lunch she had at school so her mother could prepare it at home: Frito pie! Please, where is this insensitivity coming from? The economic downturn may be a blessing in disguise because it motivates people for change as we become part of the “disenfranchised”.

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