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Obesity: The new normal?

Filed under :On my Mind...

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately and I find it very disturbing. Every day I see severely obese people (BMI>40) who can barely get around. Many can’t even walk on their own two feet anymore because their poor bodies and bones can no longer support the weight. I know they are unhealthy. I know they must be in pain, both physically and emotionally.

This breaks my heart. I imagine the vibrant, active young people they used to be and I want to cry. Life was never meant to be this hard for people. How did this happen??

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of changes in weight and in the way people think about food. When I was growing up, a severely obese child was assumed to have a “glandular problem.” It was so out of place, so unusual, that we couldn’t wrap our minds around it without attributing some sort of “cause” to explain it.

We were shocked and saddened by obesity.

Now, childhood obesity is no longer unusual. Children are being diagnosed with “adult onset” (Type 2) diabetes in ever-increasing numbers and at younger and younger ages. A report published earlier this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that during the years 2001 to 2009, there was an increase of 30.5% in children between the ages of 10-19 being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure and cholesterol readings in school-aged children are still cause for grave concern to physicians, but no longer quite as shocking to the public as they once were.

We have become desensitized to obesity.

In the past, people in this country generally cooked and ate healthy meals at home. Many families even had their own kitchen gardens. However, in the last 50 years or so, the Standard American Diet has exploded into a monstrous abomination of highly processed products that shouldn’t even be classified as food. The quantities of animal products consumed have skyrocketed, completely overshadowing and replacing healthy fruits and vegetables in the diet. The food industry is shoving down our throats the idea that “convenience” is more important than “healthy,” and that filling our belly matters more than fueling our body. We are allowing the food industry to dictate to us what is “healthy,” when it should be the other way around.

And we are paying the price at an interest rate none of us can afford. Unchecked obesity, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, inevitably leads to Type 2 diabetes which in turn often leads to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney damage, nervous system disorders, amputations, and cancer. The corresponding rise in health care costs starkly reflects the horrifying damage that obesity is wreaking on 37% of our population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, health care costs related to obesity in 2008 was a staggering $147 billion dollars. But the cost in monetary terms pales in comparison to the cost in quality of life. Who among us would deliberately choose to live out our later years confined to a wheelchair, blind, missing limbs, or worse, not even living long enough to experience our “later years”? And yet, thanks to the brainwashing of the Standard American Diet along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, that’s exactly what many are unknowingly doing.

And now I’m noticing something even more ominous on the horizon. Increasingly, both in the media and in the popular press in the form of memes and subtle (and sometimes overt) advertising, women especially are being encouraged to accept their abundant curves as part of being a “real woman.”

We are beginning to embrace obesity.

I’m not talking about “positive body image” here (which I wholeheartedly applaud), or encouraging the ridiculously super-skinny look in some super models who are inevitably either photo-shopped or dangerously close to being anorexic. Everyone deserves to have a positive body image regardless of how much they weigh. People who equate beauty with weight have got it all wrong. Beauty and weight are by no means mutually exclusive.

What I am talking about is health. The ability to walk from the parking lot to the grocery store without getting winded. To feel your body without experiencing pain. To be able to eat a meal without checking your numbers. To be able to live out your life free of heart disease, the risk of stroke, and with all of your limbs firmly attached to your body.

The truth is that for people who are susceptible to insulin resistance, even a modest weight gain of ten to twenty extra pounds can lead to diabetes. Diets have miserably failed us, including the diets recommended by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. If those diets worked, why don’t they reverse the diseases? Because they don’t work, period. Does anything? Yes.

People who are suffering the effects of the Standard American Diet can reclaim their health. Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with a nutrient-dense, whole food plant-based diet. We have a choice. And everything we need is in the produce section of our local grocery store.


JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. Prevalence of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Among Children and Adolescents From 2001 to 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity, Adult Obesity Facts.

The End of Diabetes: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.