By Marc Blanchette
America’s health is in the midst of an unsustainable epidemic. Obesity. Watching old television shows, movies or perusing family photos, I’m struck by the stark difference in the physical size of people then and that of the majority of people now overweight or obese: 70 percent nationally, according to statistics. I see it in my day-to-day goings-on. And before one thinks that I have a bias against overweight or obese people, keep in mind that at one time, I was obese — morbidly obese — at 339 pounds.
Ideal body weight is calculated by the body mass index (BMI). A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered normal. A BMI of 25 to 30 falls within the overweight range. A BMI of 30 or higher is within the obese range. A BMI greater than 40 is considered extremely obese. Anyone more than 100 pounds overweight is considered morbidly obese.
Up until four or five decades ago, folks actually cooked their meals at home. We cooked vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes. Real food! Other than an occasional TV dinner, reliance on prepared food, whether in a box or microwave bag, wasn’t mainstream. Instead, we bought the food items needed for a nourishing meal and actually cooked them. What a concept! When did we lose the ability not only to cook but to feed ourselves? When did the nutrient-deficient, calorically dense saturated fat-filled Standard American Diet (SAD) become our standard to nourish — and fatten — us?
Unfortunately, for all of this convenience, obesity has become the new norm. And for that distinction we’re now paying a steep price. Besides obesity, that price includes the chronic diseases diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer.
Maine is now the 26th most obese state in America, and the largest among New England states, according to an Aug. 31, 2017, report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (https://stateofobesity.org/states/me/). Since 1990, the adult rate of obesity in Maine has nearly tripled from 10.9 percent to 29.9 percent. Childhood obesity has paralleled its adult counterpart in similar numbers. Currently, 28.2 percent of Maine children are either overweight or obese (https://www.childhealthdata.org/docs/nsch-docs/maine-pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=3fe8ddaa_0). And not surprisingly, Type 2 diabetes has mirrored the obesity rate. Yet, we pay either scant lip service.
To be sure, some physicians will encourage a patient to “see what you can do” about shedding a few pounds, but the health care system has not taken a proactive role in healthy eating. I see this as pandering to their patients by limiting their advice to what they think the patient might be able to accomplish. No physicians I discuss this issue with actually lay out on the table in hard, direct terms what is ahead for their patient who doesn’t heed the advice given. I will never forget reading the summary report of an ENT I went to see a few years ago, “patient presented himself as an obese male …” I had never been called obese before. It was an eye-opener, one for which I am forever thankful.
We must learn that by watching what we put on the end of our fork; not only will we lessen our odds of being diagnosed with these diseases, we can, in conjunction with an exercise regimen, virtually erase any chance of getting them.
In hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, the only food shown to do this is whole food, plant-based. Yes, exactly what your grandparents grew in their backyard gardens every year. It is not created foods from some far away factory. It is not the foods advertised every day as healthy, low-fat, new and improved or whatever phrase the advertising agency is foisting upon you. These are the foods grown by a plant, not those made in a plant. And it is certainly not the “foods” found in any fast food restaurant.
It is the latter that is a major contributor to the mindset “it’s only a few pounds” or “it’s just baby fat” seen on little Johnny or Susie. We refuse to admit its true name: fat. Decades of statistics have shown that if a child is obese by the age of 6, he or she will remain that way for life. Our children are now destined to be the first generation to not live longer than their parents if current trends continue.
It is past time for a paradigm shift in what we feed ourselves. America needs to see that it is the SAD diet — meat, fish, dairy, oils and fat-laden processed food — that causes our obesity and vast majority of chronic diseases. It’s time to understand that the cure for 70 percent of our physical infirmities truly does lie at the end of our fork, not at the prescription counter. The big-box grocery stores won’t help in that understanding. “Big agriculture” won’t do it for us. They’re businesses. I get that. Their goal is profit-driven, but at what cost? My goal, a healthy and enjoyable life, trumps theirs every time.
Begin your health journey by learning to read food labels. Understand that “corn syrup,” “fructose” and “agave syrup” are just synonyms for processed sugar. Know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats. Treat yourself to daily 45-minute walks in your neighborhood. You’ll be amazed at the small things you see that you didn’t notice from behind a steering wheel.
Our obesity epidemic — yes, it is an epidemic — is sinking us. But the ship can be righted. Adopt a whole food, plant-based lifestyle and nutrition. Thankfully, we live in an age of technology and information is widely available. Surf the internet for the writings and peer-reviewed studies of Drs. Pritikin, Esselstyn, Campbell, Barnard, Ornish, Stancic and Greger, to name a few.
I’m not a shill for any of them. I am, however, a shill for good health. Yours and mine. At the age of 60 now, I want to be “wellderly” as the years pass.
Marc Blanchette is an Ellsworth city councilor.