The Centers for Disease Control recently announced that the average American has gained 15 pounds over the last 20 years. That is not exactly life-changing news, but it does make you pause and consider the problem. Whatever we are doing, it’s not good.
Despite the availability of dietary information and strong social pressure to lose weight, we continue to gain weight. The new study puts a number on it — and 15 pounds is a significant amount.
Recently I saw an advertisement for a cheeseburger. This was the most beautiful cheeseburger you have ever seen. No bun has ever been so evenly and perfectly toasted. No tomato has ever looked fresher. It was so appealing that you could just about smell the darn thing. Just thinking about it makes me want to go buy one.
The lesson here? Advertising works.
A cursory glance at our own possessions shows the unmistakable truth. There are photographers who make a good living out of capturing food images. There are also designers who spent hours staging that heavenly cheeseburger. An entire industry is involved in making you want that cheeseburger. Then they very carefully price it to maximize sales. Let’s face it, you never stood a chance.
What are they trying to sell? The average fast-food cheeseburger has 600 to 700 calories, a boatload of fat and enough sodium for a week or two. Cheeseburgers are simply not good for you, which is surprising only for the fact that it is universal knowledge.
And what goes with a cheeseburger (sometimes another cheeseburger)? Usually fries and a large drink accompany the burger. French fries have nearly 400 calories and 25 percent of the maximum recommended daily fat. Add another 100 calories, at least, for the drink.
So, 1,200 calories later, you have spent only a little money, but taken in most of the calories needed to fuel the day – and that was just lunch! In the United States, dinner is the more prolonged and calorie-indulgent meal. So, it isn’t really hard to see how we gained those 15 pounds in the last 20 years.
An extra 15 pounds is almost 60,000 excess calories. That could be worked off in a mere 150 hours of moderate jogging. That would be assuming you had brought your daily calorie intake down to 2,000 or 2,500.
I don’t mean to be discouraging, but the point is that a few hundred extra calories per day quickly adds up and becomes real weight gain.
We have some experience in trying to change human behavior to prevent disease. Smoking was discouraged with messages on the packs, banning advertising for tobacco, and scary public health videos. After 40 years of effort, smoking has become antisocial. Still, we made very slow progress until cigarettes became too expensive to smoke. That was the lever that ultimately changed behavior.
If we want to make progress in the steady march against obesity, we will need to consider pricing food by its health cost. Cheeseburgers and the like should be a luxury, not lunch.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B), is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net