The big health news this week – as if this should be a surprise to any of us who have our eyes open as we walk down the street – is that two-thirds of all adults and one-third of all children in the United States are overweight or obese. As columnist Kathleen Parker writes in The Washington Post:
Close your eyes and picture 110 million obese people waddling around America’s sidewalks. You’ll probably want to keep your eyes closed.
Such is the scenario suggested by a new study projecting that 42 percent of American adults will be obese by 2030. That’s 32 million more than today’s 78 million. Of course, they probably won’t be waddling. They’ll be in their cars in the fast-food lane, as they are now.
We’re not only eating ourselves to death; the “food” we eat is actively poisoning us. The resulting sickness (from diabetes-2 and heart disease to sleep apnea and asthma) is costing us a fortune. Fully 20 percent of health costs are obesity related – almost $200 billion a year. These costs include having to provide bigger hospital beds and other equipment for super-fat patients. And the rest of us are paying for all this in our insurance plans. An obese person, defined as carrying an extra 30 pounds, costs about $1,400 more in medical expenses per year than a person of healthy weight.
Airline seats can barely contain and support the overweight people who sit in them. Fuel costs are driven up in planes, as well as buses and, of course, ambulances, which are being redesigned to accommodate the weight (and require extra staff to pick up heavy patients).
This week’s report from the IOM urges us to eat healthier, exercise more, and do all the other obvious things we should all be doing.
Last month, the sugar industry came under the media spotlight (if only briefly) after the New York Times published a Sunday magazine cover story, “Is Sugar Toxic?” which argues that eating too much sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that.
But the other shoe that has yet to drop is the overarching danger of our addiction to meat. Our consumption of meat is not only poisoning us; it’s changing the planet in very dangerous ways, all of which are rarely discussed.
- ANTIBIOTIC POISONING. The cows, pigs, chickens and other animals we eat are raised on a diet that’s saturated in antibiotics. Fully 80 percent of all antibiotics produced by the pharmaceutical industry are sold to the farming industry. The two industries are intertwined, and together they’re leaving us subject to diseases that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
- PINK SLIME: Last month, we learned that much of the ground beef we eat is “supplemented” with pink slime, a ground up mixture of fatty bits from other cuts of meat and treated with ammonia to sanitize it for human consumption.
- POISONING THE ATMOSPHERE. With all the talk of climate change and global warming, the one thing that’s almost never discussed is the fact that more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed directly to domestic farm animals – mostly cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens.
- CRUELTY TO THE ANIMALS. But worst of all is the shocking level of cruelty that we make possible when we purchase meat that’s produced at factory farms. The revelations just keep coming, almost week by week. This week’s horror story is the undercover video from the Humane Society of the United States of what’s been happening at Wyoming Premium Farms. (Last month, the HSUS busted Kreider Farms, one of the largest egg producers in the country.)
These undercover investigations take time and great expertise. They’re also dangerous. So, organizations like HSUS and Mercy for Animals can only take on a small number. But each one tells us that that these horrors are not the exception; they’re the rule.
And the best that the animal protection groups can expect to accomplish from their investigations is that some of these factory farms will be forced to stop the worst of their cruelties and that laws will be passed that give the animals a few more inches of space in which to live their lives. Yes, it’s worth every bit of the effort, but these are inevitably small, incremental changes – nothing that affects the overall practice of factory farming or the disastrous effects on ourselves, the other animals, and the planet overall.
There are many foods that cause obesity. You can find them all together at any fast-food restaurant – the meat, the sugar, the naked carbs, the fat, and the chemicals. (Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock gained 24.5 pounds after one month of eating exclusively at McDonald’s for his movie Super Size Me.)
So, yes, stopping eating refined sugar will be an enormous benefit to our personal health. But when we stop eating meat, or even just cut back on it, we not only heal ourselves, we heal billions of animals, and we heal the planet, too.
It’s so easy. When will we do it?