More Exercise AND More Obesity: A Societal-Health Paradox

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • I think a lot about how external powers-that-be can help or harm us in our attempts to live healthier lifestyles and lead happier lives. Powers such as government and public health officials who set policy that affects large numbers of people. Powers such as those in the food industry who regulate what foods are readily available and at what cost. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.


    I spend as much or more time thinking about personal responsibility in health. A sensitive issue when it comes to personal responsibility with things we enjoy, albeit in excess. Things like food, alcohol, conveniences of the modern age. And what it even means to live in America, the land of the free/home of the brave … and a nation of conspicuous consumption. Where our problems are often (not always) problems of prosperity: Too much readily available food, too much time on our hands to while away on things that are bad for us. Just. Too. Much.

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    I was at a dinner last week with a group of professional women. Sitting to my left was a warm and engaging dentist who had immigrated from Poland a few decades ago. The conversation was about - guess what? - Personal Responsibility in Health. It drifted into the overt and excessive consumption that is so prevalent in American culture.


    One of her comments was that it wasn't necessarily unhealthy food or convenience food that got her attention upon her move to America. Rather it was healthier items, but in excess. She cited the example of poultry: That this was oftentimes impossible to get in her home country due to lacking availability and high cost. But in America? Game on.


    This crossed over to fruits and vegetables, as well. Her young daughter craved and requested as much fresh fruit as she could get her hands on - a delicacy that is abundant here in the states but was practically mythical in Poland at the time. Like unicorns.


    A recent health news headline has me thinking through this in more depth. The notion that it's not really about needing to lower prices on healthier foods (although I do support this strategy).  Doing that alone may have inconsequential effect on the rising rate of obesity and declining state of health in our country. Why? Because it's much more multifactorial than the price of an orange.


    Consider that as availability of fruits and vegetables has risen, so have obesity rates. Yes, the rise of cheap, unhealthy food is present as well - but so are more hours spent doing nothing. Paradoxically, the amount of time we Americans spend exercising is up as well. Pretty much everything is up. This is America after all - we know the meaning of more.


    I found the perspective of a non-American living in America very interesting. After all, I'm an American girl coming of age in the 80s/90s - I know full well how easy a sleeve of Snackwells can go down. Conspicuous consumption - but low-fat, of course.


    The researchers also found that weight gain was surprisingly similar across sociodemographic groups or geographic areas. They suggest that in order to understand the role of the environment in the American obesity epidemic, we must first understand changes over time and across all groups. Before acting/implementing policy, get the full picture; listen more, and not only to a chosen few? We just might be on to something.


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    For now, I am thinking maybe what we should focus on is not more of anything, but less of just about everything. Less is more, here in America? Crazy but it just might work.


    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn’t mean better health. Dr. Cindy Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers’ eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders’ insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.

Published On: May 27, 2014