Much has been made of the burgeoning obesity crisis in America, as well it should be. Consider this: the 2009 Obesity in America report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that our thinnest state - Colorado with a 19 percent obesity rate - is actually fatter than our fattest state in 1980 - Mississippi with a 15 percent obesity rate. Study after study confirms what, by now, should be a well-established fact of our society; we eat too much and move too little. This is, obviously, an over generalization on what is a heavily nuanced issue with as many different contributing factors as there are obese people in the United States. Furthermore, research out of the World Health Organization suggests that the obesity epidemic has begun to permeate the global community as well as Westernized culture spreads. The question now becomes, what are we going to do about it?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Rishabh Mehrotra, creator of Wellnation, last week on that very question. His answer: create a society, or an "ecosystem" as he puts it, that supports a healthy lifestyle. In schools, make it easier for children to access fresh fruits and vegetables; in offices, encourage healthy lifestyle with workplace incentive programs; through the healthcare system, encourage doctors to practice medicine that prevents high cholesterol and diabetes rather than write prescription after prescription for Lipitor or other drugs and procedures - by the way, according to Wellnation, Lipitor has earned Pfizer close to $50 billion in revenue since 2000.
According to Mehrotra, our country practices "sick care", that is, care for people who are already well down the road of poor health with hard-wired habits and long neglected chronic illnesses. This is partly due to a system that, generally, does not compensate preventive care as well as it should or could. Consider the fact that by 2020 Mehrotra predicts that 50 percent of Americans will have type two diabetes. Consider also that the childhood obesity epidemic has escalated to the point that experts are predicting that this generation of children will be the first to not outlive their parents. The problem is serious, it is here and it's not going anywhere.
What Mehrotra's website and driving movement aims to do is fundamentally change the way American's think about their health. Through work-site programs like "Health Happens Here", Mehrotra is able to go into work places and help employees become more aware of their health and what they can do to improve their health, and teaches employers how to foster a working environment that supports employee wellness.
What is the pay off for employers? "Healthier, more productive employees," says Mehrotra. His observations are confirmed by countless studies that find healthy, active employees take fewer days off from work, are more productive while at work and generally higher morale than employees who live less active lifestyles.
Mehrotra also observed in a recent blog post on Wellnation.net that unhealthy foods are sold in drove to children even at sporting events where physical activity is encouraged. Mehrotra writes: "It seems to me that one of the best places to increase choice around healthy food options is at locations where you have a built-in, captive market, especially ones that are focused on exercise and sports."
What can you do about the obesity epidemic? Lots actually! First, look at your current lifestyle. Are you getting the recommended 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate physical activity that the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Recommends? Is your child up and moving 60 minutes per day as well? How much time do you spend in front of a screen? Do you counter that volume of time by spending time in the gym, or even better, outside? What about your diet? How well does it follow the USDA's newly revamped food pyramid?
Now look at your community and look at your work place. How easy is it for you and your children to spend time outside? Does your office provide healthy food options and encourage healthy lifestyles with workplace incentive programs? Take a look at your health insurance coverage. Does your insurance provider offer discounts for gym memberships, massages, other preventive health care? If so, take full advantage of these services, and if not, talk to your employer or benefits coordinator about having coverage added.
Significant and lasting weight loss only occurs with meaningful and permanent lifestyle changes, which sounds hard, but Mehrotra and I are optimistic that even people with well established unhealthy habits have the power to change. "I have seen grown adults change...[they] can absolutely significantly reduce their BMI," said Mehrotra. It takes a significant commitment and a lot of work, but with good goals and solid support communities - like HealthCentral and Wellnation - it can happen.
Published On: April 28, 2011