Friday, May 7, 2010

Responsibility, Or a Toxic Environment?

One fried chicken sandwich

Ninety-nine cents

Loads of simple carbs, with a few scattered nuts and seeds.

FREE at a local restaurant (before the main course, obviously)

A quick and easy to grab bag of chips

Seventy-five cents

Two sugar glazed donuts

Buy one get one FREE

One apple; $1.50
One piece of cake: $1.50

One stressed out American who craves the sugar buzz and "drug-like" feeling he gets form eating a piece of cake, but who actually chooses the apple because he knows it will make him feel better in the long run...


Today and Sunday I will focus my posts on some of the reasons why America is becoming so overweight and unhealthy. After reading this post you will see how it makes complete sense that 1/3 of Americans are overweight. And sadly, you will have no faith that the number will be declining any time soon.

Where do I begin? Let's start with the state of our economy. Let's face it, we are all struggling with money issues in some way or another. When we don't have money to pay for things we need ( and for other, things we want...) this causes stress. Stress unfortunately has a negative effect on our hormones, which then causes sadness, depression, anxiety, and thus more stress. This stress isn't just mental, as it takes a physical toll on our bodies as well. When stress hormones are released we crave carbohydrates and sugar, our insulin spikes which causes this craving to get even greater, and most Americans do exactly the opposite of what they should do; they eat CRAP! Who's to blame them? People like myself can tell someone to eat whole fruits, veggies, and grains in stressful situations to make themselves feel better, but often times this advice just gets ignored. Is it the person's fault? Sure, we all should take responsibility for our own actions, I can't argue that, but let's face it, our society does NOTHING to help!

Kelly Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University, did an article with the authors of Nutrition Action Healthletter. The following points are from his interview, and from my own experiences living here in America.

- Our food environment is toxic. Let's face it, everywhere we go there is food. And not just any food, but unhealthy food. And when you see healthy foods on rare occasions, they are almost always more expensive then their healthier counterparts. Can you blame the companies selling them? Nope. If they want to make a profit, they have to sell healthy fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains for more money, as they pay more money for them!

- Value meals and deals are everywhere. Why buy the small slushy when you can get a "mega-gulp" for just fifty cents more? And that's no joke. The other day I was in the store and heard an obese 5 year old ask her mother for a slushy. Her mom told her to buy the extra large because it was only fifty cents more. I almost cried. The women should take more responsibility for the health of her young daughter, yes, but when everyone is all about getting more for their money, this is just going to start happening more and more. Not only that but the mother was obese herself, therefore her daughter has a slim chance of ever learning how to eat healthy unless her mother starts learning herself (which again, is her responsibility). It's a domino effect.

- Everything is at our service. The invention of the drive-thru started it all. Thousands of years ago we had to hunt and gather our food all day, yet today we don't even have to get out of our precious cars to grab a bite to eat? How pathetic. Not only that, but they even sell candy bars at Lowe's. Food is EVERYWHERE.

- It's all about responsibility, or is it? You will often hear people say that the government shouldn't get involved with food companies or initiatives to change ingredients and laws to limit items being sold. The argument is that people should be responsible for their own health. I agree, but not 100%. I mean, do you really think people are less responsible now, than they were 20 years ago? I don't. It's just so much more difficult to be responsible when unhealthy food is everywhere we go, stress follows us everywhere, and false information of "hope" is at our service (think fad diets and supplements that promise weight loss but which only end up making you more unhealthy).

- It's more difficult for someone to lose weight, and keep it off, than it is for someone who is already a normal weight to stay that weight. Why? When you lose weight your metabolism slows down. Someone who loses weight will have to continuously eat less to keep their weight off, compared to someone who hasn't lost weight but who is the same weight as the person who has lost and is trying to maintain. So what? The more people out there who gain weight and then try to lose is makes for a society of people who may be desperate for a quick fix and unhealthy diet practices. This is why so many companies make so much money selling their fad diets and products. It's all a scam that ends up hurting, rather than helping people in the long run.

- Sugar is addicting. Some studies show that sugar has some of the same powerful effects on our brain as drugs and alcohol. Now that it is being added to just about every single thing we eat, it's clear to me why people become addicted to sugar (and really, food in general. Studies have shown the combination of fat, sugar, and salt is very addicting). At first all it takes is a little sugar, but over time you will need more sugar in order to reap the same "positive" effects.

- Schools are allowed to sell junk. I do think the school lunch program needs reviewed, but most importantly there needs to be something done to prevent schools from selling candy and soda outside of lunch, and even during lunch, for extra money. It's fine if they want to sell food to make money, but there needs to be some laws that prevent them from selling non-nutritive foods, which cause kids to be addicted to sugar starting at such a young age.

QUESTION: Would you like to add anything?

*** Yes, the picture of the fried chicken sandwich above was Nick's, and in fact I had one too. Is there anything wrong with that? No. We paired them with a nice salad and an apple! And, we don't eat them everyday. I am not against eating junk, I eat some junk everyday! I also don't look down at people who eat junk, and I never will. The point of this post is to send the message to someone (I don't know who), that our society needs to make some serious changes. They did it with cigarettes, can't food be next?! ***

Coming Up
Sunday I will post some more information on this very topic. Our local paper published a fantastic article with a lot of shocking information. I'm excited to share it with you.

Thanks for reading everyone, and have a great weekend!


  1. This is an awesome post. Awesome, but depressing. You do a great job summing up the contributing factors to obesity in our country :-(

  2. I absolutly agree with everything you pointed out here. Now the question I carry with me all the time is how do we get enough people to care to take action so we can change some of this.

    Yes personal responsibility is part of it but there needs to be some intervention with the companies that produce our food as well. I believe that some companies are purposely making their food addictive to continue to sell more of it. I equate it to the same as someone who produces and sells drugs. We have laws that try to prevent drug production/distribution...why the heck are we letting food companies produce and sell their addictive substances that is contributing to the slow death of our people?

    Ack can you tell I'm passionate about this?

    Look forward to your next post.

  3. I agree with you whole heartedly. Some definite changes need to be made... when will they though I wonder?

  4. When I initially scrolled through the first few pictures/commentary of this post, I thought hm...This doesn't totally sound like Gina, maybe she's somehow doing a post on how to eat on a budget? The sad part is that this is exactly how so many people justify eating fast food. Some of the most food insecure places in America also happen to be the most obese. Poor people don't turn to fruits and veggies because, well, the $1 for an apple or two will give you a lot less energy than a happy meal. I wish our government would start more proactively working to reverse this dilemma. Good post.

  5. Great post! I just read an article similar to this in Nutrition Action and it couldn't be more true! Carby and unhealthy food is cheap and that's a HUGE problem. Let's pass the protein around to share

  6. Great Post! Lots of things to think about.

    I had an interesting converstation with one of my students the other day - he said he had run out of money in his college meal plan because he started eating more fruit and from the salad bar. The price of fruit and salad is MUCH more than the french fries. He ran out of money 3 weeks ago.

    I wish either the price of the salad and fruit came down - like you pointed out - bad food is cheap!

  7. Wonderful post Gina! I agree that society is not helping the obesity factor. There's so much we can do... obviously education is the key... but how do we get people to believe us and do what we say?

    p.s. thanks for giving me your opinion on integrative nutrition. :)

  8. This is such a great post!!!! I was thinking about this today when I ran into a convenience store to buy a banana and saw that candy bars were cheaper. I still got my banana, but when money is a big concern and nutritional knowledge isn't widespread, it's easy to see why candy wins out...if you aren't used to eating fruit for snacks, chocolate is far more appealing taste-wise. I have also been noticing more and more how many special offers there are at grocery stores on things like cake, cookies, alcohol, chips- not foods I avoid completely, but it's pretty rare to see great deals on more wholesome foods. I had a dream the other night that food was priced by calories! Haha. Though I think using something like NuVal to calculate costs would be such a great idea.

  9. This post is great. It's really sad to me how inexpensive companies can sell junk compared to the cost of fruits and veggies. I do think someone should step in and regulate this. Seriously if there are regulations on the price of gas to make sure everyone is dealt a fair price..shouldn't food be the same way?

  10. I love how honest you are... It would be so neat to meet you Gina. You just seem so real!

    After watching Food Inc. I couldn't help but replaying a particular part over and over in my head.

    A lady on there couldn't afford to feed her family healthy food.

    At first I was blown away. WHAT?! Of course you can! Then as I started thinking harder it became clearer. Why on earth would someone on a limited budget, spend 1.99 for a head of broccoli when they can get an entire meal that fills their kids belly's up at McDonalds? It makes perfect sense. I swear I spent hours trying to figure out how to fix that.

    I'm still at loss... Healthy food IS expensive. Plus you have to be creative. Most people don't have time to be creative.

  11. Less nutritious food is cheap because it's cheap to make. If the government stepped in and regulated the food industry instead of McDonalds and placing salt bans, there would be a huge difference in our food prices.

  12. Until people stop buying the food there will still be a demand and sadly the food will still be there. Until people stop buying this stuff the companies will make the foods. I think half the time people are uneducated and the other half of the time they just don't like being told what to do. So if you say don't eat this, they want it more. If you say you need to eat more vegetables, they'll say: you can't tell me what to do. America is all about freedom and it's this freedom and the free market that has gotten us into this mess.

  13. Excellent examples of why we as a nation are getting larger and more unhealthy by the day. Food, and not the healthy sort, is everywhere and companies know we love convenience and are all too happy to provide us with the junk that makes our lives easier and our waistlines larger.

  14. thank you for your honesty! and for being real and for sharing such great information with are my fav rd!

  15. Gina, when my daughter started first grade and brought home the lunch menu, I almost died - most of the lunches were in the 800 calorie range and loaded with fat!

    I just watched a documentary about a family who's husband was out of work and the wife only had a minimum wage job - they sustained themselves off of the $1 menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner because it was cheaper than buying groceries!

    Great post! :D

  16. I couldn't agree with you more. I especially like that you pointed out the domino effect with parents and their children. I see this all the time at work.
    I was so mad the other day when I had a parent blame their child for having cake. I later asked the patient where she got the bought it. Hmm..well where should the blame be placed. You can't expect to see change if you don't do it for yourself first. Enough of my ranting..have a great weeken!

  17. The story about the little girl is heartbreaking. I see it all the time too. The children just never even have a chance. As a mom to be one day, I want my child to have the healthiest and happiest life possible. I dont get why other moms dont want the same.
    My mom was the exact opposite of this. She tried every fad diet, so since I was 10 all Ive known is slimfast drinks and skinnycow ice cream bars.

  18. This is very good Gina. It is so true---unless kids have good examples, the cycle continues. Its not just obesity, but crime, education and abuse also. I think a good start is the school lunch program--there is entirely too many processed items and non-nutritive foods. At our school, candy and soda sales are not allowed, but there are underground sales where kids will by a box of candy from Costco and sell it on the down low at school.

  19. oh this is so true and it's horrible and crazy how different foods are available in different areas - but makes sense as it's dependent on demand...we just have to change what people are demanding!!!

  20. Few more details: cars= less movement = lack of exercise.

    And the lack of variety in the diet. I'm amazed at all my friends who don't know what a certain food is, like kimchi, or any type of grain that isn't wheat or rice. I think kids should be encouraged to try a wide variety of food from young, so that they don't close up to new choices, and only stick to the few things like potato and chicken.

  21. I feel like we could sit here and name reasons all day long. We are in a bad state, but I do think that slowly (super slowly) people are going to become more aware and with education learn how to make these changes. I love your cigarettes comparison. Change will happen at some point.

  22. yea i agree with the first post.. awesome yet a little depressing. .then again a lot of reality can be depressing. food is such a drug to most people.. in fact i think were all addicted to a point.. there's so many things that need to change.. with the state.. the government.. how families value healthy lifestyles.. and personal chocies etc. im just glad theres RD's out there like you. ur awareness is so needed! thank you lovie! <3

  23. WONDERFUL post, Gina! I think your BEST point was the one about people who lose weight will really have to work at it...forever. The metabolism does take a downward swing when people lose weight, and it can really result in an uphill battle. Not so say that people shouldn't aim to lose weight, obviously, but it makes it difficult to keep it off. Really great post! Looking forward to tomorrow's post!

  24. Gina, thank you thank you thank you. I've often wanted to rant about the state of things here in the US, the toxic eating environment that is slowly spreading to other countries (and we think we help other countries!). I've talked with Peter about these problems over and over because they drive me nuts! I almost cried myself when I read your story about the obese 5-year old, because I've seen it so many times myself. All of this starts with kids - healthy habits early will produce healthy habits later, even in an unhealthy eating environment. Therefore, it really all starts with parents. Unfortunately, parents are tired, stressed, many have lost their jobs, and often they are struggling with weight issues themselves from having poor role models growing up. Vicious cycle.

    I learned in a psychology class that people have a "set" amount of self-control, that if you need to practice self-control over and over (say, in a toxic food environment), your resistance will weaken each time. So, sure, we can say that people have personal responsibility, but when I see my father-in-law, who's one of the smartest, strongest people I know, come home from his job as a doctor exhausted and reach for the candy bowl, I just about cry myself.

    On a hopeful note, here in Connecticut there is a Healthy Foods Act that offers schools who follow the NSLP an extra 10 cents per meal if they follow strict health food guidelines for the foods they serve, including NO vending machines, no foods that don't fit under the stringent guidelines are allowed to be served, and health education is a part of the cafeteria experience. There are definitely flaws with the program, but overall I think it's a GREAT start. :)

  25. Great post and great comments to follow! The obesity problem is so complex, and as you illustrate, there is not one easy fix. Clearly this needs to be attacked from many different angles.

  26. Only halfway through this article I hit 'Post a comment' because there was a little sentence in there that pretty much sums up the state of health on a global basis:

    "... therefore her daughter has a slim chance of ever learning how to eat healthy unless her mother starts learning herself..."

    In my opinion, parents need step up. Responsibility is all part of the family contract... but it's the easiest to ignore.

    Unfortunately capitalism preys on our faults so fast food and all the other evils will never go away. It's the choices we make as adults (and as parents) that determines the likelihood of the next generation becoming as addicted as we seem to be. And addiction being a behavioural element relates to everything, not just the food we eat, but whether going outside for ten minutes a day is acceptable. It's just too easy for people to throw blame everywhere and not take responsibility, even just a little.

    Great post!!

  27. I totally, totally agree with all your points - our food system and food culture are completely toxic, and in need of a major overhaul...

    The story of the mother and daughter ordering the slushy is so very, very sad...