The State of Obesity

Did you know…

  • Kentucky high school students have the worst obesity rate in the United States?
  • Utah high school students have the lowest obesity rate in the United States?
  • Black youth view twice as many calories advertised in fast food commercials as White (non-Hispanic) youth?

What are possible explanations for these disparities? These data are found in  The State of Obesitya collaborative effort of Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The site is clearly organized (user-friendly), and includes sections on obesity rates and trends, policy analysis, state briefs, and bite-sized lists. Fast facts are also available—such as the highest percentage of teenage obesity can be found in the southern United States, and the lowest are found in the western United States. A clear correlation shows that the poorer and less educated, the higher the rate of obesity.  The State of Obesity also highlights statewide trends, and findings based on age, socioeconomic status, and physical activity, among others. The site also offers opportunities and strategies for obesity prevention and policy recommendations.

At a micro level, the educational possibilities from the The State of Obesity  statistics are endless. Both media and health literacies hinge on the ability to access these data—and then analyze, evaluate and communicate findings. Parents and teachers can pose the question: “How do we know what we know about obesity?” Answering this question will lead young people to critical analysis of both individual behavior and societal structures that both impede as well as promote health.

Fed Up with the Obesity Crisis

If you haven’t seen the 2014 documentary, Fed Up, we highly recommend that you set aside 92 minutes of your time and snuggle up on the couch with a big bowl of something healthy. Written and produced by Stephanie Soechtig, this film highlights the obesity epidemic in the United States, and how it poses significant physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges particularly for children in the United States.

If you don’t mind us spoiling the substance, keep reading.

Katie Couric’s voice guides us through a heartbreaking and informative journey that focuses on the role of the food industry in sickness and in health. A plethora of shocking statistics are presented by a list of leading nutritionists, scientists, doctors, politicians, and lobbyists. President Bill Clinton, Dr. David Kessler, Michael Pollan, Dr. Mark Hyman, and Senator Tom Harkin are just a few of the contributing voices.

Food labels are revealing in what they conceal. The number of unpronounceable, Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.19.55 AMaddictive, and genetically modified substances overpower the few, if any, whole and healthful ingredients. While nutrition labels report the daily percentage of fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other vitamins and minerals, food companies strategically omit from food labels the percentage of sugar.  Could it be that food manufacturers and distributors do not want us to see that the daily sugar intake recommendations end at 25 grams and most packaged foods exceed that in one serving? It is also highly significant that the human brain responds to sugar in a similar way that it does to cocaine.

From 1977 to 2000, Americans have doubled their dietary sugar intake. “Healthy” products often contain the same if not more sugar than some junk food items, and Fed Up graphically illustrates some astounding comparisons.

       Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.31.46 AM The film also weaves together personal stories of three obese children with physical conditions that have severely diminished their quality of life. One young man is told by his doctor that his life is severely at risk because of his weight. Another is a victim of school bullies because of his size.

Fed Up is a story of disheartening truth. However the message is not primarily to point fingers. It is an historical analysis with the purpose of leading audiences to a greater—perhaps even profound—understanding of the urgency of the obesity crisis. It is a call to conscientiousness and a catalyst for change.

The future is in our individual and collective hands. What will you do to consciously choose health? One way is to take the Fed Up Challenge: Sugar Free for 10 DaysHealthy Teens has joined. We too are fed up!

3 Minutes to Health Literacy

Ontario Physical and Health Education Association, aka Ophea, is a not-for-profit organization stationed in Canada. Their vision is congruent with the goals outlined in Healthy Teens. Ophea promotes a healthy and active lifestyle for all children and youth through the participation of their schools and communities.

Teaching tools are available on Ophea’s site in the form of lesson plans, program and resource supplements, and activities. Each tool targets specified grades (K-12) and topics in health and physical education, but all reside under the umbrella of encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle. Signing up to access these resources is definitely worth the effort. Ophea also offers professional learning services to educators and other professionals in need of health, recreation, and education training. Ophea is doing awesome things for the province of Ontario, and one resource Healthy Teens wants to share with us in the United States, is their “HANDS UP” video series. HANDS UP for Physical and Health Literacy, is a three-part video series that introduces children to the concept of physical and health literacy, relates the concept to their own lives, and encourages the application of literacy skills in order to live a happy life.

The first part is designed for children aged 4-9.

The second is intended for children aged 8-13.

The final part is designed for youth 12-18.

Averaging a mere three minutes per video, these are fantastic tools to use both at home and in the classroom. The speed-drawing artist is clever, engaging, and sure to keep eyes wide open while viewing. Thanks to Ophea for sharing these simple, but remarkable aids to promote physical and health literacies.