The United States is one the wealthiest nations in the entire world. This in theory should mean that the inhabitants of this great country are among the healthiest in the world as well. Unfortunately however, the correlation between these two variables does not imply causation.
Americans as a whole are unhealthy. Childhood obesity is on the rise. Procedures like bariatric surgery, which at one point, was looked upon as a last resort, is becoming more and more common not to mention acceptable. Exercise is looked at as a bother and fast food franchises are worth their weight in gold. The end result: unhappy, overweight individuals who will eventually put a strain on the economy by having to utilize emergency services. All this paints a very bleak picture. However, the problem can be solved quite simply by uttering three words: healthy eating habits.
The link between good nutrition and health has long been acknowledged by the public at large, however, does anyone really know what ‘healthy eating’ really is? It seems, depending on what area of the country one inhabits as well as cultural and economic background will determine the definition utilized. Furthermore, it is unclear as to whether the lay person truly understands how exactly proper nutrition effects not only bodily functioning but mental capacity.
Fat Intake: It Effects More Than the Midsection
In the industrialized world, saturated fat is part of most individual’s everyday diet. The common wide held belief, is eating such foods will just cause a demise to one aesthetically (though on occasion individuals do also acknowledge the possibility of heart disease which rises with every burger consumed) but very little emphasis is put on cognitive functioning. It was found by one study that an increase in saturated fats can lead to decreased learning and memory. On the other hand, an increase in omega III fatty acids, curry spice or vitamin E, have been found to benefit cognitive performance. In addition, regular exercise can cause not only more effective mental functioning but in a sense balance out poor eating habits. This isn’t to say that continued exercise is a license for continual poor eating, but it can attempt to fix whatever issues are present.
A Lesson in Glucose
Have you ever gone the whole day without eating? You run around the office, picking up the kids, just rushing and rushing from point A to point B. Well, when one does so, a strain is put on the body. Glucose is sugar which is made by the body to fuel activity. A reduction in glucose production is not only uncomfortable, but can also be quite detrimental to ones’ mental function as well. If proper glucose is not transmitted to the brain, one may not think as clearly or as concisely as necessary. In fact, studies show that children who eat breakfast do better in school then children who do not. Not eating can lead to the body reacting one of two ways: hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.
Hypoglycemia means not having enough sugar and hyperglycemia means having too much sugar in one's system. On a basic level, whether one goes in one direction or the other depends not only on whether food has been consumed, but also on the amount of insulin, the hormone necessary to get sugar into the cell, is present.
It’s All About Balance
At the end of day, if one can properly balance out the basic four food groups (which may sound like a visit back to middle school), health can improve and consequently, quality of life. An easy way to achieve this balance is referring to the food pyramid. This eating plan is easily accessible online and even has a nifty ‘food tracker’ which can help one assess exercise and eating habits in addition to a menu planner. The Department of Agriculture, the organization responsible for the food pyramid, has even gone ahead and modified the pyramid for pregnant individuals.
Maybe People Have Started Listening?
A study was recently conducted by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that the steadily rising rates of obesity among children in the United States may have finally leveled off. Eight thousand one hundred and sixty five children between the ages of 2 to 19 participated in the nationwide government survey between the years of 2003 to 2006. The results of this study are considered more accurate than other studies because it was not based on self-report. Meaning, results of the study included in person measurements of weight and height.
According to data collected, 32 percent of children were overweight or obese and 16 percent were obese from the years of 2003-2006. These numbers have remained steady after a rise that started in 1980 and is only stopping now. Data collected on men and women in this same time period should that men have plateau at 33 percent being overweight with women coming in at 35 percent overweight.
Though this information can be viewed as encouraging, the researchers responsible for the study warn that until long term effects of obesity are determined in this cohort, it’s hard to regard this information as conclusive. Heart attacks and strokes are things that happen with years of bodily abuse and cannot be determined right away. However, perhaps individuals are becoming more aware of the link between a shortened lifespan and unhealthy eating behaviors. More importantly, perhaps they will begin utilizing the information they have for the better.
Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN
Grant, L.P., Haughton, B., Sachan, D.S. (2004). Nutrition Education is Positively Associated with Substance Abuse Treatment Program Outcomes. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 604-611
Pinilla, F. G. (2006).The impact of diet and exercise on brain plasticity and disease. Nutrition Health; 18(3):277-84
United States Department of Agriculture. http://www.mypyramid.gov/. Accessed May 5th, 2008
Ogden, C.L. & Carroll, M.D., and Flegal, K.M. (2008) High Body Mass Index for Age Among US Children and Adolescents, 2003-2006 JAMA. 2008;299(20):2401-2405.