Obesity is now so prevalent that it must be addressed as a social and political responsibility, not just an individual issue, three University of Georgia professors agree.
The professors were part of a panel discussion following a screening of part of HBO’s “Weight of the Nation” at the Tate Theater on Wednesday evening.
The Georgia Public Health Training Center and National Association of Chronic Disease Directors teamed up to present the documentary.
“It’s important not to blame the individual but to work as a community — all the places we live, work, and play — to support each other to find community-drive solutions,” said Marsha Davis, an associate professor of health promotion and behavior. “People in Athens live in food deserts, and we need to continue to assure that people have access and can afford fresh produce.”
Obesity has reached crisis levels, noted Karen Hilyard, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior with experience in health communication.
“We need a wake-up call. I can’t believe we’re working on any other issue in public health right now because of its wide-reaching impact across all areas,” she said. “This problem fits the definition of a crisis, but why aren’t more people outraged?”
Unlike a natural disaster, obesity and its long-term risks are perceived differently, she explained. But we need to change the way we talk about obesity.
“We need to re-frame the issue from one of personal responsibility to one that’s a community issue. It affects not just our health but our economy, health care costs, and even national security,” Hilyard said. “We can’t expect to survive as a country if we have a crippled workforce that can’t handle physically demanding jobs. Policymakers must consider what obesity means for the future of our country.”
Ultimately, it starts with this generation, added Connie Crawley, a registered dietician and Cooperative Extension associate.
“As a young person in your 20s, you’re probably at your lowest weight for the rest of your life,” she said. “You’re in the prime situation to make decisions now that will influence your future weight and your future family.”
From the American Academy of Pediatrics Prevention Plus recommendations, Crawley listed several goals to reduce obesity in America:
- Screen time: Remove screens (TV, video games, computers) from bedrooms and reduce viewing time to two hours per day.
- Sugary drinks: Take them out of your diet! This includes 100% juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks.
- Physical activity: Some sort of activity 60 minutes per day. It doesn’t have to be all at once or planned exercise.
- Sleep: Newest on the block of recommendations, sleep helps your metabolism and reduces your chances of making poor decisions about eating and activity when tired. Plus, you’ll eat more and drink caffeine to stay awake.
- Breakfast: Eat it. It increases your metabolism after fasting while you sleep. For children, however, we must ensure they are not eating breakfast both at home and at school.
- Eating at home: Do this 5-6 days per week. Fewer Americans have decent cooking skills. But if we can educate children and adults how to make a few healthy, simple meals, it’ll make all the difference.
“Even if families or individuals select one to work on each year, they’d be a different person in six years,” Crawley said. “These key points will seriously impact your long-term health. You are as much at risk as the people in the film.”
The film is available at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/