Eliz Greene

Tonight I’m honored to help Young Farmers and Ranchers prepare for the American Farm Bureau Federation‘s Discussion Meet.  Their discussion question is:

What role, if any, should agriculture play in addressing health and obesity issues?

Your comments are welcome below – here is the information I provided:

According to the Gallup and Healthways poll released today, the majority of Americans are overweight or obese – nearly 62%.  Public awareness campaigns and an investment by goverment and business in changing America’s health habits may have played a role in slightly increasing the percentage of people at a normal weight, but it is clear our nation has a big problem.

Here is the skinny on America’s Obesity Problem:

How big is the problem?
At a cost of more than $147 billion, obesity it taking a toll on our country, and an even larger toll on the health of our citizens.  In a two year period the number of adults who were obese increased by 2.4 million.

People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for:

  • Heart Disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • endometrial, breast, and colon Cancers
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Liver and Gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gynecological problems (abnormal menstration  & infertility)

Children who are overweight or obese run the same risk of disease, in fact 70% of obese children have at least one risk factor for heart disease and 39% have two or more.  Obesity in childhood sets other adult diseases in motion as well, such as joint problems, gallstones, reflux, and type 2 diabetes.

Since 1980 the number of children who are obese as almost tripled. 1 out of 7 low-income preschool-aged children is obese.

Obesity is a problem in every state and is much more prevalent in poorer communities.  See an interactive map of the states and increasing rates of obesity.

Source links for this section:

What causes obesity?
On an individual level:

Weight gain happens when you take in more calories than your body burns.  It is a simple equation, but balancing it seems to be diffcult for many.  On average Americans take in 600 more calories per day than they did in 1970. That could add up to 62.5 pounds per year in weight gain.

In addition, we have become a more sedentary nation.  Many communities lack sidewalks or other safe ways to walk to school, stores, or work.  Recess and physical education have been cut back in school and more people adults work behind a desk or behind a wheel.  Children spend more screen time than they have active play time.

Source Links:

From a societal view, the obesity problem has several causes:

  • Affordable and available food isn’t healthy food.  Experts agree the most healthy diet is rich in fresh fruit and veggetables, however these items can be expensive and difficult to find.  While those who can afford them can debate the virtues of organic or locally grown produce, those in poorer neighborhoods may not have access to any fresh produce at all.  The only fruit maybe canned and swimming in corn syrup and the only vegetables frozen or canned and laiden with salt and fats. Some of the poorest neighborhoods have only convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
  • Convenient meals do not equal healthy meals.  Fewer and fewer people cook from scratch and rely on pre-made packaged foods.  Processed foods almost always remove healthy fiber and add in salt, fat, and sugars.
  • Americans are drinking too many calories. The average child consumes 172 calories per day in sweetened beverages.  These calories take little to no energy to digest and throw the calorie balance off quickly. No matter the source, our children are consuming a “clinical dose” of sweeteners much like lab rats.  Consumption at that level cannot help but cause health problems.  The discussion shouldn’t be whether corn syrup or corn sugar is bad for you, it should be about why it is in so many products and why are kids are consuming so much of it.
  • Some food isn’t food at all:  In an effort to squeeze as much profit out of chicken, turkey and pork, Advanced Meat Recovery produces a meat-like substance that really shouldn’t qualify as food.  Read more
  • Obese is becoming the new normal.  People tend to reflect their peer group.  If your peer group is overweight, you will likely be overweight.  Looking at class pictures of school aged children the overweight kid is no longer in the minority in many cases.  This new reality skews perspective and often inhibits desire to adopt healthier habits.
  • Parents are not equipped feed their children.  We weren’t taught to deal with today’s food choices and labels are often confusing.
  • Government programs have not caught up with the changing food landscape.  Programs such as WIC, school lunch programs, and Food Stamps are mired in out dated nutritional thinking and standards have not been adjusted to meet the needs of today’s kids.

What has been done?

Some recent efforts have included the new USDA nutrition icon shaped like a dinner plate which stresses smaller portions and a greater intake of fruits and vegetables and Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.  Public education efforts are well intentioned and may work if people have access to the right kinds of foods.

Other efforts include state programs to link schools and farmers to provide fresh produce, a national initiative called Safe Ways to School that requires new schools be built with walkable/bikeable access, and some states have increased required physical education minutes.

Source Link: Solutions

What can Ag do?

Farmers produce high quality nutritious food.  What happens after it leaves the farm is a major factor in the obesity crisis facing our nation. yet, most of the conversation swirls around types of agricultural production and the subsidizing of commodity crops, but does not address the real issues.  My strong suggestion is for Ag to move the discussion toward the real problems. For example:

  • Rather than discussing the virtues of organic or locally grown produce, discuss how to get fresh produce into the poorest of neighborhoods and schools.
  • Rather than debating the name for corn syrup or corn sugar, debate why manufactures are putting it into products aimed at children such as juices, yogurt, and snacks.
  • Rather than focusing or corn fed or grass fed beef, or free range or caged poultry, focus on meat that is actually meat.

As our country continues to address the problem of obesity, I suspect health policy and food policy will become more and more connected.  Keeping a close eye on the proposals through the CDC, NIH, and the Department of Health and Human Services will become increasingly important.  One resource I find helpful to keep up-to-date is the American Heart Association’s grassroots advocacy effort.  I encourage you to sign up to get their email news about health policy issues.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this information with you.  I’m happy to answer questions if you post them in a comment.  Good luck in your Meets!!

Other links:

How agriculture policies contribute to obesity

Public Health and Agriculture

Fooducate Blog

Eliz Greene

Eliz Greene works busy people to improve heart health, so they can work well, feel better, and stress less.

She is a heart attack survivor and the author of the Busy Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Heart as well as 3 other books on wellness. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs and is a sought-after wellness & stress management speaker.

If you are planning a women’s wellness program, workplace wellness program or programs for healthcare professionals check out EmbraceYourHeart.com to see if Eliz would be a good fit with your organization.





About Eliz Greene

Eliz Greene survived a heart attack at age 35 while seven months pregnant with twins. Her down-to-earth strategies to manage stress and improve heart health and reduce stress are used by thousands of busy people all over the world. She is a motivational wellness speaker, author, and job stress researcher. Visit elizgreene.com to book Eliz for your next event.

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