WIN Wyoming and WIN the Rockies
A World Perspective on Obesity
in the United States
"You have a wonderful environment to make everybody obese and diabetic,
and the rest of the world will look at you and know exactly what not to
do." Those were the jokingly spoken words of Philip James, chairman of the
International Obesity Task Force, when he met recently with obesity prevention
researchers in the U.S. James offered some world perspectives on the obesity
epidemic in the United States. His observations were reported in USA Today
on August 21, 2002, by reporter Nanci Hellmich.
- James predicts that Americans will continue to struggle with their weight
unless drastic changes are made to the environments in which people live.
- Americans have been "mentally conditioned" to believe that
maintaining a healthy weight is solely an individualís responsibility.
James argues it is a larger societal issue. Individualism is one of this
countryís strengths, but when it comes to effectively preventing obesity,
the trait can be disastrous.
- If you have genetic tendencies to gain weight, to avoid obesity in this
country you have to behave abnormally and reject all pressures to be like
- Children are bombarded with advertisements and most of those ads are for
foods and drinks that should be consumed rarely, not regularly. Vending
machines in schools sell soft drinks and high sugared foods that distract
students from an appropriate diet.
- Streets in the U.S. are built for one thing: motored vehicles. In other
countries, streets are filled with people walking, biking and playing.
- There are very few ways for Americans to have "spontaneous physical
activities." You canít go shopping for anything without getting in a
vehicle. In many buildings, stairs are difficult to use and unattractive.
- In short, James states that American ingenuity has done everything
possible to eliminate daily physical activity for the majority of people.
- It does not appear education is the solution. Millions of dollars have
been spent to educate people about the problems of obesity, and the impact
has been negligible with obesity rates increasing each year.
- James argues that Americans must make wholesale changes to the
environment. He points to the success of community bicycle paths in Europe.
He argues that research shows when you alter the environment, people will
get on their feet and get moving.
Source: "USA wallowing in unhealthy ways," USA Today, Nancy
Hellmich, August 21, 2002.
Philip James is a British nutrition researcher and serves as chairman of the
International Obesity Task Force, a non-profit organization fighting obesity
around the globe.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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