The statistics are shocking, yet very little is being done to reverse the trend of America’s health and growing waistline. Unfortunately, a large part of the problem is us, the consumer. A recent HBO documentary series takes a look at obesity and focuses on the consequences of what we eat, the choices we have, and the challenges faced by farmers, grocers, and distributors. Some of the alarming facts that are pointed out include:
- Nearly 20% of children today are obese
- 67% of adults are overweight or obese
- 77% of children that were obese continue to be obese as adults
- 90% of Americans fail to get their daily amount of fruits and vegetables
- $150 Billion is spent each year on health consequences of obesity
HBO has partnered with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a four part series titled, The Weight of the Nation. The ultimate goal in fighting obesity is wrapped up nicely in the films tagline: To win we have to lose. There are four main videos that are a little over an hour long each. There are also 12 additional video shorts that are around 15 to 30 minutes each.
One of the videos takes a look at obesity prevention through accessibility and use of healthy fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. It is called, Healthy Foods and Obesity Prevention: Increasing Markets for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers.
The problem is easy to figure out. Governments are giving high subsidies and incentives to grow a select group of crops. Over 70% of farmable land in the US is covered with corn, soybean, and wheat rotations. These crops are the main ingredients in pre-processed foods that are loaded with sugars, fats, artificial sweeteners and starches. The American diet currently relies heavily on processed and fast foods. This trend is the reason for a skyrocketing of calories being consumed and the percentage of people that are obese and overweight.
How to handle the problem has an easy solution. Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, ideally ones that are locally grown and get from the farm to your table as quickly as possible. The benefits of fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods are clear. Fruits and vegetables:
- are high in vitamins and minerals
- have low to no fat
- are generally lower calorie
- can lower blood pressure
- can lower cancer rates
Although the problem and solutions are easy to identify, the gap between them contains some challenges. Currently less than 3% of US farmland is dedicated to fruits and vegetables outside the main crops. The HBO film looks are great local examples of farmers in Iowa, grocers in Kansas, hospitals in California, and school systems in Texas that are addressing the transportation and infrastructure issues.
In the end, it comes down to us as consumers to demand more healthy foods and make a conscience choice to give up the easy processed fatty foods. There is some good news in this. The number of young farmers and those that grow local food has gone up dramatically. Also the number of local farmers markets has gone up around 300% in the last decade. To learn more and make your own decisions, watch the eye opening video series on the HBO website.