World-wide health called a ‘slow motion disaster’

Published Aug 27, 2017 at 8:50am

Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, recently described the American health situation as a “slow motion disaster.”

She addressed the National Academy of Medicine and declared obesity and diabetes to be a public health problem for people all over the world. Food has become the problem.

Agribusiness, or food production, makes it easy for consumers with mashed potatoes ready in less than five minutes, frozen desserts ready in less than one minute, and snacks always ready and available to eat before dinner.

Food is plentiful, but not for everyone, only for those who can afford to buy into this business. More than 100 years ago, in 1917, the U.S. Food Administration during World War I addressed the food supply as follows: Food – 1.) buy it with thought; 2.) cook it with care; 3.) use less wheat and meat; 4.) buy local foods; 5.) serve just enough; 6.) use what is left. Don’t waste it. One-hundred years later, this is still the best advice to follow.

There are 800 million people suffering from chronic hunger around the world, yet some countries have populations where more than 70 percent of adults suffer from diabetes or obesity.

Previously, most concern with dietary issues in developing countries dealt with malnutrition, especially stunting and wasting in children, and anemia in women of child-bearing age. Now, these dietary concerns have shifted dramatically, with more people worldwide obese than underweight.

This is why Dr. Chan describes the problem as a slow motion disaster.

In 2014, 640 million adults worldwide were obese. This population-wide increase in body weight is what Dr. Chan calls a warning signal that big trouble is on the way. Obesity increases risks for heart disease and some cancers, but the role of adiposity as an independent risk factor is strongest for diabetes.

Diabetes can cause costly complications that burden health budgets and household finances for the long term, including blindness, limb amputations, and the need for dialysis.  

Worldwide economic growth and development are usually associated with better health outcomes, but now allow for globalized marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages and the switch from active to sedentary lifestyles. Rapidly growing economic prosperity is making many previously poor people sick.

Obesity and diabetes is made worse by heavy advertising – especially to children, politically powerful lobbies, and money invested to distort scientific evidence. Agribusiness is a global industrial complex controlled by just a handful of large multinational corporations that control the entire food chain, from the seeds, to production, to marketing, and to distribution and consumption.  

Dr. Chan believes that government officials must recognize that the widespread occurrence of obesity and diabetes throughout a population is not a person’s individual failure, giving in and not resisting fats and sweets, or not exercising more. She believes it is a failure of political will to take on these powerful companies, like food and soda industries. She calls upon politicians to prioritize the public’s interests and fight against these corporations to stop obesity and diabetes.

Every five years, the federal government rounds up the latest scientific evidence about nutrition and serves up advice about what to eat and drink for better health. The resulting Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides basic guidance to the public about healthy eating patterns and shapes nutrition education programs. But what do these guidelines mean for your daily food and drink choices? They provide simple steps to shift your eating habits, to improve the quality of your diet. For example, switching from sugary beverages like juice or soda to water or seltzer.  

The latest set of guidelines increased the importance of overall healthy eating patterns rather than focusing on individual foods or nutrients. The guidelines suggest limiting added sugars, but reduced emphasis on total fat and dietary cholesterol. Other key guidance should remain familiar, like the importance of eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The following are a few key points from these governmental guidelines meant to help you and your health:

All your food and beverage choices matter – The whole of your diet, at an appropriate calorie level, is important to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, obtain adequate nutrients, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. This ideal eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables, whole fruits, grains – half of which are whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages, a variety of protein including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds, and soy products, and oils including those derived from plants, like olive, sunflower, corn, and peanut, as well as those naturally present in nuts, seeds, olives, seafood, and avocados.

Aim for nutrient density – choose nutrient dense foods. All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy, and lean meats and poultry are nutrient dense foods, but only when prepared with little or no added solid fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium. Stay away from the agribusiness and the processed foods.

Cut down on added sugars – limit sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. In a 2,000 calorie diet, that means no more than 200 calories from added sugars. This is roughly 12 teaspoons, or about the amount of sugar in a single, regular 16-ounce soft drinks.

Added sugars come from many different foods however, so this means much less than one soda per day. Nearly half of added sugars come from sweetened beverages, like soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Simply eliminating these sodas, sports and fruit drinks could get most Americans within the 10 percent limit. It’s also important to focus on added sugars plus starch.  

Try this easy snack to reduce the processed food from your diet. It’s simple and quick, and helps you add some protein to your diet.

Spicy Chickpea Poppers

1 15 oz. can no-salt-added chickpeas

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Drain, rinse, and blot dry chickpeas. Toss well with olive oil and spice mixture. Roast at 450 degrees on a lined baking sheet for 25 minutes. Serves six.