Article by guest writer from Multimedia and Reporting class, Aleah Heffron
Let me paint a picture, verbally of course: Alex is walking through the school lunch line with her friends. She takes in all her options: the salty scent of pizza and fries, the crunch of chips and hamburgers ,the click of a pop can opening. None of her choices are healthy. She sighs and decides on a slice of pizza and Lays potato chips, subsequently consuming 400 to 600 calories.
Sufficient nutrition is becoming an increasing problem amongst Americans, a group of people whose fast-paced lives allows for a diet consisting of fast-food facilities like McDonalds, Burger King and Little Caesars. Home cooked meals are a rarity, posing issues such as obesity and diabetes.
As for my experience with this, let’s start at the beginning. When I was 9 months old, I was diagnosed with a rare medical condition called Turner Syndrome. Turner Syndrome (lovingly called TS) is a disease that causes heart, ear, kidney and sometimes neurological issues. A person may ask, what does a strange disorder have to do with health and food? It’s because 40 percent of women with my syndrome have developed type two diabetes or hypertension, known commonly as high blood pressure.
Again you may ask what is the connection here? Coupled with a crippling diet, the risk of harmful conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes increases greatly. Not to mention the dangers fast food already presents to the public: obesity, and yes, diabetes and hypertension. The daunting side effects may seem dismissive at first glance; however, the diseases listed can be fatal if not treated properly. Treatment includes a healthy, balanced diet with more veggies and exercise, which are all common sentiments doctors nagged about.
Additionally my particular blood is tainted by even more risk. My great-aunt and Grandfather suffer from diabetes; my Uncle, Grandfather, and Aunt all have hypertension, and my great-grandparents, both sets, even died from cancer. In layman’s terms: diabetes, cancer and hypertension run deep in my proud Midwestern family.
I’ve always been petit, even deathly thin since I can remember. This was partly due to Turner Syndrome, but more likely because I had a wonderful active childhood filled with gymnastics, Tae Kwon Do and outdoor adventures. However when I was seven, tragedy struck. I also suffer from anxiety and was put on a medication called Abilify. My mood began to shift, but I became sedentary and unmotivated. I quit Tae Kwon Do and started spending most of the day indoors, neglecting the friends I’d made at my new school. My passions started to wilt, leaving me depressed.
It worked for a while, but my parents started to notice my eating habits dramatically change. Instead of eating a banana, I would consume four slices of pizza, a ginormous cheesecake and more than a few bites of chocolate. What my parents didn’t find out until later into my pre-teen years was that Abilify, while it dulls your anxiety, depletes one’s ability to sense hunger or fullness. So being the ravenous seven-year-old I was, I ate and ate because I was never able to tell when I’d eaten enough.
I gained a lot of weight causing an immense loss of confidence; I was a confident child. I once gave a presentation to my whole third grade class for fun. This part of me deteriorated, and my social life disappeared. Luckily my parents eventually had me stop taking Abilify, and things started to steadily improve.
This experience taught me something powerful: food is not surface level or black and white. According to a study at Harvard Medical School, adults that order a meal containing 836 calories will underestimate the amount 175 calories. Furthermore adolescents performed the lowest and underestimated the caloric content of 756 calorie meals by 259. Also the study discovered that one-quarter of people were off by 500 calories. That’s astounding considering the normal calorie recommendation by the USDA is 1,600-3,000 for an adult (although factors such as age and activity level can affect your personal caloric regiment). For example if a person is 5 foot 10 and 180 lbs, their daily calorie allowance will be higher. At the same time if a person is 5 foot 1 and 110 lbs but active their calorie allotment will be similar. However if the more petit person in question is sedentary, their daily food recommendation will be much lower.
So to sum it up teenagers, who underestimate the most, are eating up to half of an adult’s daily serving in one meal. To understand the larger picture, one needs to understand also that although calories play a large part in health, the nutritional value of our food is just as important. Another study by the USDA shows that for many Americans it can be difficult to intake enough food groups such as fruits and vegetables. The convenience of eating out and the expensiveness of fresh produce creates an environment where poorer and middle income families have a trickier time eating healthy.
According to the Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, teenagers are farthest away from the recommended vegetable intake. However adults consume closer to the recommended amount. Still the study found that most people don’t eat enough greens. Additionally, according to the same source, Americans also don’t meet the necessary fruit and grain intake (although older women and young children eat close to the recommended fruit amount). Many other food groups like dairy and oils have similar statistics. Strangely though grain amounts are exceeded or close but the grains consumed are primarily white and not whole grain (which Americans don’t eat enough of). All food groups are beneficial however if one’s body doesn’t receive sufficient nutrients one can become lethargic and unmotivated.
American’s unfortunately, are unknowingly consuming way too many calories through increasingly used fast-food joints and are not intaking proper food group amounts. This information, dear reader, frustratingly raises far more questions than answers. However a recently published book, The Chinese Study (circa 2004), may provide much needed clear insight. Written by Dr. Colin T. Campbell, the detailed account of a scientific study completed in China suggests there may be a link between fast-food and weight gain. The study found that although millions of people suffer from the well-known side effects of weight gain, the rate of illness is higher in Urban areas where traditional, healthy, Chinese meals have been discarded in favor of western dishes.
Okay, I know that’s a lot to digest, but fast-food and unproportionate amounts of unhealthy carbs are the primary cause of hypertension, cancer, obesity and diabetes. That’s why I’m so vehement in my search of healthy answers to this relatively modern delima. Even though I have a disease and heritage that make me more susceptible citizens are made just as vulnerable.
What can we do about this?
If I may quote my uncle, a public health student who is also a project assistant at John A. Burn School of Medicine at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa: “So I like Michael Pollan, an author I referenced earlier, [because] he isn’t claiming ridiculous stuff. There’s no ‘30 day detox’ or whatever. He’s not selling magic powders. He’s saying eat more plants and less processed stuff. That’s it. Repeat until you die.”
Vegetables and fruits provide one’s body of vital nutrients like vitamin C and D. Consuming less processed foods will have life-long effects such as decreased rates of heart attacks and diabetes. So next time you’re waiting in the lunch line for a snack, consider bringing lunch from home and eating an apple instead.