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U.S. can't decide about health & fitness

Published July 06. 2013 09:03AM

Last week's column introduced a relatively new health and fitness term, dysnutrition. Unlike malnutrition, which occurs from a lack of calories creating a lack of sufficient vitamins and minerals, dysnutrition results from consuming calories so loaded with sugar and processed flour two foods lacking virtually any nutritional value that a vitamin and mineral deficiency still occurs.

The dysnourished are not severely underweight like the malnourished; in fact, they are often overweight.

Overweight but undernourished. Only in America. The land of opportunity and nutritional lunacy.

This week's column will continue the language theme and explain why "schizophrenic" is the perfect adjective to characterize the American public when it comes to health and fitness. When not used specifically as a medical term, being "schizophrenic" simply means exhibiting contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes.

And does the American public ever display contradictory or antagonistic qualities and attitudes about what we need to do to start eating better, losing weight, and maintaining healthy bodies and healthy hearts.

Take, for example, the results of an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released earlier this year. Those polled called the fact that one-third of children and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese "a health crisis," yet 60 percent of those surveyed opposed to battling the crisis with any sort of tax targeting foods that have unquestionably caused it, such as soda or foods high in fat.

Additionally, 75 percent of respondents were against restricting the amounts of unhealthy food you could buy, similar to New York City's attempted ban that was struck down by a State Supreme Court judge on restaurants selling super-sized sugar-sweetened beverages.

In the same survey, roughly 80 percent wanted more physical activity in school, despite the fact that any research survey on increasing school taxes, something needed to increase gym time, has been opposed by the public in the past.

And it's not just in surveys that the American public seems schizophrenic. It's in actions, too. Consider a report of food-consumption patterns from the USDA's Economic Research Service.

Americans ingested 10.4 fewer grams of fat per day in the years from 2005 to 2008 when compared to 1977-1978, a fact you would think would indicate that people are not only eating better, but also losing weight. After all, 10.4 grams of fat is nearly 100 calories.

A reduction of 100 calories is also the same amount that some experts cite as what's needed across-the-board in America to end the increase in obesity and create a dramatic improvements in our collective health.

Yet that hasn't come close to happening.

Because while Americans have managed to trim off a significant amount of fat from their diets in the last 30 years or so, fast food ingestion has almost doubled in the same time. From 2005 to 2008, 31.6 percent of all calorie consumption took place outside the home, up from 17.7 percent in 1977-1978.

So while Americans ingested less total fat from 2005 to 2008, they also consumed more total "junk" calories added sugars, processed grains, and saturated fats.

Numerous surveys have established that the American public recognizes the need and the multiple health benefits to regular exercise, yet a 2010 report by the Penington Biomedical Research Center based the American Time Use Survey found that only 5.07 percent of the nearly 80,000 surveyed had engaged in a vigorous workout in the 24 hours before the survey.

Even if we double that percentage to allow for those who exercise on alternate days, that still leaves 90 percent American adults not doing the sorts of exercise that yield the biggest health benefits: jogging, lifting weights, bicycling, and exercising on indoor cardiovascular equipment.

Working out is one of the measures needed to maintain heart health. The American Heart Association also identifies other six factors besides exercise as being crucial: not smoking; eating fruits and vegetables; avoiding diabetes; and keeping total cholesterol, blood pressure, and body-mass index at acceptable levels.

Yet in a telephone survey of over 350,000 people published in the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, just 3 percent of respondents claimed they did all seven. In fact, the typical American was deficient in four of the areas.

Can you see why "schizophrenic" is such a suitable adjective for the way most Americans manage their health and fitness?

America has been proudly lauded as the land where you can have it all, and we've been brought up to believe that. But the "all" originally meant opportunity, religious freedom, and the right to vote.

It didn't mean all the processed food you could eat at all hours of the day and night. Optimal health, like other things valued and cherished, comes with a price.

America needs to recognize this.

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