Are You Fat?

Are you fat?

Oh, I’m not talking about five or ten pounds. I’m not talking about feeling fat – which is another issue altogether. I mean getting on a scale, trying on your clothes, looking in the mirror – and facing it – excess weight for your stature, body type, age and sex.

Worse – are you obese?

According to recently released statistics on obesity by state, the South continues to lead the way in alarming rates of obesity.

Weight, Appearance, Health

I would find it hard to dispute that Americans have been obsessed with weight and appearance for more than a generation. But for all the focus on health and fitness, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

The article points out:

Twenty years ago, “there wasn’t a single state that had an obesity rate above 15 percent, and now every state is above that,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, which compiled the report.

Mr. Levi continues:

“We have seen a dramatic shift over a generation… This isn’t just about how much people weigh, but it has to do with serious health problems like diabetes and hypertension. These are the things that are driving health care costs.”

Concern for the eating habits of our children requires that we educate ourselves about nutrition, and that we be able to afford good nutrition – some of which may be within grasp even on restricted budgets.

Within grasp if we know what we’re doing, that is – and, if we have access, which raises other issues.

The cited reports include frightening trends. Among them:

  • More than 1/3 of American children are now overweight or obese
  • Only one state has an obesity rate below 20% (Colorado, at 19.8%)
  • Prevalence of obesity varies with education and income

Obesity Factors: What’s Missing In This Picture?

And that mention of correlation between education / income and obesity is the only significant reference that might lead us to consider the socioeconomic factors, although Mr. Levi says:

We have reconstructed our lives so that we don’t build in physical activity. We have neighborhoods and communities that are food deserts, where the only food you can find is unhealthy fast food.

That’s all well and good, but where are the related figures on these devastating eating behaviors and unemployment? Hello?

And how might we contribute to changing the nutritional landscape – for ourselves, our families, and our communities?

  • How can we do a better job of making healthy and affordable choices available where the “food desert” exists?
  • How can corporate responsibility be encouraged – shamed into action if necessary – when it comes to those food providers who could potentially offer cost-effective options that can be mass produced/distributed and not unhealthy?

If I sound miffed, or more specifically, dismayed, I am.

It’s one thing to address issues of influences on weight and self-esteem – for children and young women (in particular). But what if we’re creating new generations of nutritionally ignorant adults and there are options and opportunities for improvement? Don’t we have a responsibility to seek alternatives and recommend action plans if we can? To make this a priority?

One out of three kids and teens – obese or overweight. That scares the hell out of me. Doesn’t it scare you?

Food Budget Realities

My household is on an increasingly tight budget, which of course includes food. And teenagers eat. They need to eat. We all need to eat well in order to function properly. It’s that simple.

Recently, I’ve been trying diligently to feed my family on highly nutritional foods, and more frequently, organic where possible. In other words, when the price is the same or less. On our current “austerity plan,” that necessitates lower cost overall without sacrificing nutritional value. With a new $34 pressure cooker, in these past few weeks I’ve been able to create meals fast – using quality (unprocessed) ingredients that are not more expensive.

Already, I have recovered the pressure cooker cost two times over, while producing delicious and filling meals. Many, for $8 or less, feeding three. In other words, I’m saving dollars, and we’re eating better.

No, I’m not proposing the pressure cooker as some magic solution to all our cultural nutritional ills. But I am saying that sometimes simple ideas can save time and money. Knowledge can point us toward better choices. Even in troubled economic times we may be able to exercise more options than we realize.

Also quoted in the obesity article is Connecticut dietitian Samantha Heller, who indicates that parents and caregivers make 75% of the decisions regarding what our children eat. This hardly comes as a surprise, considering day care, school lunches, and of course, grocery shopping typically done by mothers. Clearly, education is essential.

Person-to-person education, if need be?

Heller says:

Overall, I am hopeful that the report will help motivate food companies, local and state governments, schools and communities to generate a good head of steam to help stem the tide of childhood obesity.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Literally

If knowledge is key, it isn’t sufficient. Knowledge requires action. That head of steam – which just may involve a head of cabbage (about 99 cents and can feed a family of four). Perhaps it’s time for us to speak out? To use social media?

To encourage another aspect of a critical call to action – that “we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?”

Is this one more topic for One Million Pissed Off Women (OMPOW) – and the men who love us – so we can do better by our next generations?

  • Aren’t you concerned about this gargantuan problem?
  • Are you facing it in your household?
  • Are you convinced that you cannot afford to feed yourself in a healthy way?
  • Isn’t healthy eating vital to us as we age as well?
  • How do we voice our feelings to food providers, to government, and offer alternatives?
  • What can we each do, as individuals, as parents, as members of our communities – to help?



© D A Wolf

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Comments

  1. I find myself on such a tight budget these days, that I can scarcely afford ANY foods but it is true, that the convenient unhealthier choices are often all we can afford. Dollar menu meals add up to less than chicken breasts and a bag of vegetables. A home grown garden helps ease some but with this crazy weather, not much fruition there either. One thing that came to mind as I read your post is just how many of my daughters friends, 20+ yrs old are not able to cook. Most cannot boil a pot of water. That in itself says a LOT regarding the obesity rates does it not? If you can not throw it in a microwave, purchase it at a drive thru or heat it in an oven on a cookie sheet, many young people cannot prepare it.
    I pride myself on the healthy meals my children can make, Even my son. But so many have never learned.
    Possibly arising from the many two working parent homes? I do not know.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      NAS – Such an important point – the fact that too many of our kids don’t know how to cook. Because parents haven’t been home to teach them? Because it seems easier (or is) – whether it’s cost-effective in the long run or not, to grab fast food? Because single mothers (speaking for myself) are so tired by the end of the night when we grab kids from wherever they are that fast food is the path of least resistance?

      Another commenter (thank you, EvieJ) points out that we do have options that may not cost more, and offer healthy alternatives. But they do require transportation, time, and stores that carry what we’re looking for. I would add that the sort of foods EvieJ mentions are likely to be available. Buying in bulk can assist with cost (but you need to get the food home and have a place to keep it).

      I have been truly surprised at how much I’m saving by using the pressure cooker, and I have been tracking the cost and time for a variety of meals and find myself astounded at the quantity and quality of food I can prepare for $10 or less. (I hope to post some recipes, pictures, and costs associated soon.)

  2. A couple of points:
    1.) It is expensive to eat healthy. Let’s face it – fish costs more than ground beef.
    2.) Eating healthy is affordable – because the primary problem with people’s diets is that they EAT TOO MUCH.
    3.) Weight control is 80% portion control.
    4.) I think it’s great that chain restaurants now have to post the caloric values of their meals. Of course, I always wonder about the accuracy.
    5.) While corporations need to be responsible, people need to be responsible. You can put all the information out there and if people want to ignore what’s best, then how is that the corporation’s fault?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Cathy – Yes, fish certainly does cost more than many meats – especially the fish we are encouraged to eat with Omega-3 – salmon and tuna for example (though where I live, salmon isn’t touchable right now, and at least there’s tuna in a can, though I find myself reading what’s on the can with a great deal of scrutiny as well).

      I would say that eating healthy is much harder on smaller incomes depending upon the time you have available to run around and comparison shop, what stores are available near you, gas costs to/from, etc. As for your contention that 80% is portion control, I disagree.

      I also believe portion control matters, but if you are eating quality food, you don’t feel hungry an hour later. I also know people who eat “normal” portions who are genetically predisposed to being heavier. Much heavier. I am currently eating more and healthier, and losing weight, with no change in other factors. The only change is what I’m eating, which is both healthier, and lately, less expensive with the exception of the occasional piece of fish.

      I think this is an extremely complex issue, as are many that we tend to simplify. That said, I think we can go far – with awareness – in doing better. And, as another commenter said, by exercising our side of basic supply-and-demand economics. If we don’t buy the junk, they won’t sell it. Oversimplified, I know. But as an example – my understanding is that McDonald’s in the UK had to significantly change their menu because the Brits refused to eat the junk they were serving.

      Offering calorie counts isn’t enough; better food is. It’s smart business. And sanity, if we want to reduce enormous (future) health care costs, among other things.

  3. And by the way, to answer your title question, no, I am not fat. But I very well could be. I love to eat. I love burgers and fries, chicken parmesan, beef stroganoff, baked potatoes with lots of sour cream, fried chicken – you name it. I could be huge if I gave in to every whim that passes me by. I have to use will power and know what’s best and enough. I eat all those things, just in moderation.

  4. This is in response to notasoccermom’s comment that it’s cheaper to feed your child(ren) fast food than it is healthy foods. If you’re going for chicken breasts and frozen veg, yes it is less expensive. But there are healthy cuts of meat – untrendy, perhaps, but still healthy – that you can get. You can buy less expensive vegetables – cabbage was mentioned in the post as 99 cents. You can buy beans, either by the bag or in bulk, or cans on sale, and serve that with rice and a salad. If you opt for a more vegetarian diet (note: I am not a vegetarian) you will cut your food costs. Beans, lentils, pulses – all are less expensive than meat. Chicken thighs instead of breasts. Stew meat instead of sirloin. I’ve even bought a package of veal escallopine for less than $5.00, with enough meat for 4 people (2 adults, 2 kids). Add that to a head of broccoli and some brown rice (bought in bulk) and you have a healthy, home-made meal for 4 for under $10.

    I’m a single mom and on a tight budget, and our eating habits have changed a LOT recently. Learning to shop the way our parents/grandparents did has taught me a lot.

    Also, think of this: you might save a bit of money (truly, not much if you make smarter choices at the grocery) and time, but your kids are going to suffer later from all the saturated fat and junk.

    And if you do opt to feed your kids fast food, then do NOT blame the fast food company when they’re fat. Parents are choosing to give this to their kids when there are other options, so PARENTS, not McDonald’s, need to take the responsibilty. If consumers don’t order it, the fast food places won’t sell it. I’m tired of companies (Nabiscos/Oreo) being blamed for us being fat when we ourselves are choosing to eat all this cr*p. Nobody is forcing our mouths open and ramming junk down our throats.

    End of rant. :)

  5. Oh, and no, I’m not fat, and neither is my daughter.

  6. BLW – just to clarify – my point about portion control was pointed at restaurants in particular. The American mentality that more is better is seen quite clearly in portions served at restaurants. In addition, many people don’t realize that a portion of pasta, for example, is a 1/2 cup, a portion of lean meat should be 4oz. I’ve read this many times but recently have witnessed it in person with a friend who (due to diagnosis of diabetes) started dieting and her primary method is simply weighing her food.

    I know – we need to eat healthier and that needs to change too, but my point was that a big difference can be had by merely watching the quantity of food consumed as well.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      When it comes to restaurant portions, Cathy, I agree. Ridiculous amount of food in this country at many – you’re right. It’s distorted our concept of what “a portion” is. (Have you noticed that if you compare the size of standard dishes today with what was used a generation ago – ours are much larger?)

  7. CSA (Corporate States of America) promotes enormous quantities of cheap junk food for folks, and Big Pharma pretends to have drugs that fix the obesity and illness that result (or at least sell us drugs that make us no longer care about our situation).

    Much salmon is farm raised (even when labeled wild) and lower on Omega-3 (plus there can be a concern about PCBs). Junk food into fish translates into junk fish (but at least, less fatty than red meat). I remember when fish came off the boats in Marblehead and Gloucester.

    Go as vegetarian and meat free as possible. In today’s world, healthy eating can be difficult. Do your best and don’t worry overly about what is not in your control. We often combine our walks with foraging. It can be sort of fun and interesting, and makes you much more aware of nature and the seasons. And some interesting foods. Learn more online.

    I say (in class) and do (five miles this morning) what I can – but the message and messenger are often not appreciated. Surprise?

    Pressure cooker – good. You might want to try craigslist or freecyle in the future.

  8. In response. I totally agree with you EvieJ. I do my best to avoid the fast foods. I have taught my children to cook healthy meals also. skinless breasts are much less fatty and calorie ridden than the cheaper legs, thighs and wings. I am aware. I spent 14 years as a full time single mother working full time and going to school nights. It was really easy to stop and pick up ten dollars worth of dollar menu items. Going grocery shopping is expensive, time consuming and as BLW pointed out, made difficult by comparison shopping or searching for the better foods.
    I do feed my children healthy and agree it can be done, even on a tight budget.
    I also do not blame the corporations. I don’t blame any one thing. But it is a fight, to find low-cost, healthy and easy to prepare meals that appeal to everyone. And so we keep on keeping on. Way to get us all thinking BLW and great ideas!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Relative to “blaming” the corporations, I might refer to corporate “responsibility” mixed in with supply & demand. And as for Paul’s remarks, personally, I don’t think he’s very far off…

  9. We take our son to the grocery so he’s in on the planning of meals. Not all the time, but enough. I want him to know what food costs, too.

    A huge topic, this. Our main weapon against CSA is awareness. It’s also the main weapon against obesity. So I guess I slightly disagree about portion control being 80% of of weight control. In my case, at least, it’s mindless eating that’s the problem. I made a simple rule once: I had to be seated while eating and I couldn’t be doing anything else (except conversing.) As long as I did this, I continued to lose weight.

  10. Since you used the word ‘budget’ can I suggest second-hand cooking utensils? Also, people don’t get fat eating non-organic food. I’m afraid I’m one of those really odd people who think the whole ‘organic’ thing is a consumer-driven concept. I appreciate that if you can rescue your children from pesticides it sounds a good thing. I’m not feeding children, however, and given the choice between by-passing fast/prepared foods and eating organically on a budget, I know where I’d aim. I’d feed my kids just like I feed myself and my husband: we eat mostly vegetables, with a little protein: beans, chicken, fish (tinned tuna, largely), beans, meat (!!), fish, eggs, veggie, something grain-like and weird like quinoa or couscous, fish (those frozen white things that need a lot to give them some flavour), beans, cheese, nuts, you get the idea. We have a vegetable garden. Spinach and kale practically grow themselves, I promise. Milk? Skimmed. Dessert? Fresh fruit and sweetened yogurt. I don’t know why weight is such a problem in the US/western world but I’m scared about it as well. I just got back from 3 weeks holiday in the US and I have to say it’s a much meaner place than I left 16 years ago.

  11. Good and important points all around. Here’s to hoping for empowered and informed people eating their way toward better health and a better world for all of us.

    BTW, a book I picked up along the way, “Healing with Whole Foods” (not about the organic market, but an Asian concept of food as akin to medicine) has been useful and interesting: http://www.amazon.com/Healing-Whole-Foods-Traditions-Nutrition/dp/1556432208

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      @Shelley – Interesting comparisons between the US and Europe/UK. There are issues of availability and cost here, certainly, in this huge spread-out land – and the time it takes to locate what is both affordable and a healthier option. But as we’ve seen from remarks here, there are healthier options that can be accommodated on a tight budget. But it’s more challenging.
      @Bruce – Thank you for the reference. I do believe that with more information, we can make better choices. Institutionally as well.

  12. I have been fighting a battle with food since I graduated from high school and largely losing it. When I entered college, my diet went down the drain. I found myself searching for the quickest option instead of the healthiest and it has led me to pack on the pounds to the point of it scaring me a bit. I feel fat and unhealthy. I’m frequently tired or lethargic. But it has been really difficult for me to do anything about it. Every time I start to make changes, something happens that leads me to throw my goals to the wayside. I’m not saying that my excuses are valid, I’m just pointing out that it is difficult to eat healthy. That doesn’t mean it is impossible. It is just increasingly difficult to make it a high priority that matters enough to rise above all the other stuff that comes up in life. And this is a problem that scares me. I worry about myself and my friends and my family because this is a battle that I feel like we all have to face on some level. It’s just grown that big.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I’ve had my own battles with this issue over the years. I know how hard it can be, Jennifer. It’s not a simple problem, and the solution isn’t always easy either. Thank you for sharing your experience with this. Something I think we need to talk about more – all of us – without assumptions or judgments.

  13. This was a timely post for me, BLW. We’ve just started the long-awaited elimination diet to figure out what’s been making me sick, which has meant changing what we cook with quite drastically. We tend to use whole ingredients most of the time, but the ones we’re restricted to now aren’t “mainstream” — and therefore priced less affordably (gluten grains, corn, soy, and dairy are all out; teff, amaranth, millet, and rice are in). We invested the time and gas money in doing some comparison shopping and then pursued options online. The consistent finding (at least for dry goods): order directly from the company that makes the product. Even with shipping for bulk items, it’s more affordable by more than half what we’d pay at the grocery store.

    I’m glad the pressure cooker is working so well. We’re doing a lot of poaching meat for sandwiches to save on the cost of cold cuts. We pay for convenience, no? It amazes me, what I’ve learned about price discrepancies in our research over the last month. It’s not consistent at all (whole ingredients vs. processed, mainstream vs. not, local vs. not, etc.). So many things contribute to the bottom line.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      The inconsistency is remarkable, CT, as you point out. It’s also interesting to see how competitive pressures impact even “upscale” stores. For example, Trader Joe’s has a very drinkable red wine (Merlot or Cabernet) for $2.79/bottle. The wine snobs may turn up their noses at that, but I find it at least as good as bottles I’ve purchased at a liquor store for $10.

      Just this past week, I noticed that Whole Foods is now offering California wines of their own as well – at – you guessed it – $2.79.

      A few other surprises? Grass-fed beef at my local supermarket – $2/pound more expensive than the “regular” (shot full of hormones and who knows what). But if you buy a large size piece and then take it home and trim it up yourself? Same cost as the non grass-fed alternative. Believe me – I’m more than capable of slicing and freezing a nice cut of meat.

      Hoping that your elimination diet will provide some useful information. Trying to identify food allergies or related factors isn’t an easy or inexpensive process.

  14. I had to read this post when I saw it in my reader, because I’ve been feeling my body image (and self esteem) plummet recently. Life is busy, we eat healthy, and yet there is too little time for exercise. For me it’s key, and since having children, exercise has become a luxury. Sad, but true. But here’s something that I think is key: in the last 20 years since obesity rates have started to skyrocket, so has access to convenience foods. Even in the 15 years since I moved out and started doing my own groceries, I see a huge change in selection at the grocery story. Certainly there are some healthier options (types of produce, for example), but overall the high-processes, high sodium, high calorie foods are through the roof. People dont’ know how to read food labels. To me it’s about education, and helping people learn how to make healthier choices.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      So true. We don’t know how to read food labels, or we’re too hurried, or we shrug and figure “it will be alright,” without fully knowing the cumulative effect of what we’re eating over the years.

  15. I think women in general have an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. Food is consumed not just for the necessity of eating, it’s consumed for emotional reasons that are almost akin to having sex.

    If women were as “strong and independent” as they claim, they could successfully deal with a decent diet and a healthy exercise regime.

    Yeah, I know. Heap contumely upon my head.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Drew. I have no intention of being contemptuous of your remark. It’s your opinion, and personally, I think it’s a valid observation. Women do have far more issues with food than men, and I think the reasons are complex, and they don’t have to do with the “strong and independent” crap that so many throw around (both men and women). But they do concern issues of control. Sometimes food is the only thing in a woman’s life that she can control, though that in itself often takes over and controls her.

      Still, it’s largely women who do the shopping for families, and we could all do with more education as to what we’re eating, and what it’s costing (today, and relative to our health and the health of our kids in the future).

  16. On the subject of organics, I had never considered switching over, shying away from the higher prices and not considering myself “green” enough to really do any of this.

    Then, right before Thanksgiving, I attended a program at my daughter’s school about food and one of the presentations was on why one would eat organic, etc. I learned a startling fact that switched the eggs and milk in our household immediately to organic: the cows are kept pregnant to keep them producing milk, which, in turn, keeps high levels of estrogen in that milk which has been linked to certain types of tumors found in humans. And the chickens are given antibiotics which are transmitted into the eggs and make humans more antibiotic-resistent. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/12.07/11-dairy.html and
    http://www.opednews.com/populum/print_friendly.php?p=Got-Antibiotics-in-Your-Fo-by-Martha-Rosenberg-090204-935.html

    There wasn’t one moment of hesitation after hearing that. I don’t know what’s next for my family, but that made me immediately get over my strange fear of cracking open a brown egg and finding a chicken!

  17. Your post and discussion reminded me of the documentary Food Inc. Have you seen it? It really delineates the cost of actually trying to eat healthy. And it is expensive. For persons who are on the edge of trying to make ends meat, it just isn’t a feasible option. As for exercise, it really is about a lifestyle choice. I exercise to maintain my weight and to also retain a healthy feeling. But many times, I sacrifice sleeping in to squeeze into my day.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It is – I believe – more difficult to eat well on an extremely tight budget. But there are some foods that are accessible and affordable, though perhaps not enough. As for exercise, it’s a life choice, yes, but a single mother working two jobs and taking care of kids doesn’t have time, believe me. Or energy. And I’m not talking someone in my situation, in that “former middle class” stratum. The other thing I’ll say – about exercise – is that it assumes you have no injuries or health issues that make even simple exercise (like 20 minutes/day of walking) feasible. It’s simply not the case for everyone, and nor are options like yoga or swimming necessarily available or affordable.

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