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The Obesity Epidemic

In June of this year, the American Medical Association designated obesity as a disease in order to more effectively define it as a medical condition that requires treatment and affects 78 million American adults and 12 million children.
In June of this year, the American Medical Association designated obesity as a disease in order to more effectively define it as a medical condition that requires treatment and affects 78 million American adults and 12 million children. Today, we have Lorraine Mulfinger of Penn State University to talk about the related health complications of obesity, how society is playing a role in the increasing obesity rates, and what you can do that can help you eat healthier.

• Obesity can cause many types of complications, including type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of obesity-related complication. Joint issues are also a concern for people with obesity, as this can cause the degeneration of cartilage and underlying bone within a joint, a condition also known as osteoarthritis. Other complications from obesity include coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, reproductive health complications such as infertility, mental health conditions and some types of cancer, including endometrial, breast and colon cancer.


• The prevalence of obesity is similar when looking at statistics for the nation and Pennsylvania; however the nation’s obesity rate is a little higher than Pennsylvania’s obesity rate. New studies show that more than two out of every three adults in the United States are overweight or obese – with 68.7% of the adult population. In Pennsylvania, the obesity rate is slightly lower, at 65% of the adult population. In total, 35.7% of adults in the United States are classified as obese, with a BMI greater than 30, and 29.1% of adult Pennsylvanians are obese. For those who are not yet familiar with the term BMI, this is a number that takes into account both your weight and height.

• We live in an obesogenic environment – which describes a lifestyle in which food high in calories and sugar is readily available coupled with a widespread lack of physical activity, in large part because technological devices make it unnecessary for us to move.

In addition to having unhealthy foods readily available to us, we have trended as a society toward providing larger portion sizes. In 1955, two slices of pizza were 500 calories, but when you stop by a pizza shop now, two pizza slices at today’s sizes equals 850 calories. A coffee with milk is about 45 calories; however, in today’s society, many lattes are packed with calories and you could add 320 calories by drinking certain flavored coffee beverages. And for dessert, a typical ice cream cone in 1955 contained about 230 calories, compared with more than 1,000 calories found in many large ice cream treats blended with candy toppings. The typical female in my age range only needs 1,600-1,800 calories a day, so it becomes very easy to gain weight in our culture.

• An important practice is to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t eat. Find a food with low calories that you like. If you have a sweet tooth, find a healthier option that is portion-controlled and not as high in calories. My mom satisfies her sweet tooth by having a small Dixie cup of orange sherbet.

Also, studies show that weighing yourself every day helps people to maintain their weight or lose any necessary weight. They also encourage label reading to be aware of the calories in everything you eat and to help you choose food more wisely.

Lastly, food plays a part in many social activities – from family meals to potlucks to birthday lunches – and many people feel that it is okay to skip healthy eating at such events. But these occasions are occurring more frequently than before and have become weekly activities. These get-togethers can truly add a lot of unnecessary calories to a person’s weekly caloric intake. They recommend sticking with the most nutritious options available. If there aren’t any healthy foods to choose from, take on the challenge to be the one bringing a healthy option for next time. For each meal, envision what your plate looks like, then try to fill it with vegetables, grains, fruit, dairy and foods with protein. Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov for help in making sure your meals include the five food groups that are the building blocks of a healthy diet.

• With the Grange Fair coming up, do you have any tips to help community members avoid some of the unhealthy foods typically found at fairs?

Again, it’s important to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t. Face it – most of us go to the fair to eat a favorite food that we wait for each year. So before the fair starts, make a list of your favorites and look up the nutritional content to decide which the healthier choices are. Basically, nothing deep-fried is healthy, so that covers a lot of fair foods.

Many fair foods are high in fat and loaded with calories. Some foods to avoid include a foot-long hot dog and a bun, which can pack about 460 calories and 26 grams of fat. Huge turkey legs contain up to 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat. A funnel cake is about 760 calories and 44 grams of fat, and a fried Snickers has about 444 calories and 29 grams of fat.

If you live at the fair or attend daily, having just one of these a day is problematic. So try eating a healthy meal at your tent or at home before going to the fair so that you aren’t hungry when you get to the concessions. Also, bring healthy snacks like almonds with you. If you need to buy something to eat at the fair, try finding a grilled chicken sandwich, kabobs with vegetables and lean meats like chicken or shrimp, bags of peanuts, or corn on the cob without the butter. Again, avoid the deep-fried foods and limit that high-calorie, high-fat favorite to once during the week and not once a day.


If you are attending the Grange Fair, you can join the Mount Nittany Health team on Friday, August 23, at 9 a.m. at the Grandstand to kick off the 4th annual Mount Nittany Health Walk. The first 100 participants who walk in the one-mile event will receive a special gift. Also, stop by Mount Nittany Health’s booth, located in building 12 at site 29, to receive the Mount Nittany Health Walk brochure, which shows the mile-long Health Walk Path. Walk a mile a day and receive a stamp on the Mount Nittany Health Walk brochure. If you earn more than five stamps, you will receive a prize for your participation. For community members who would like more information on obesity in our society, visit Mount Nittany Health’s website at mountnittany.org or the People Centre’D on Diabetes website at pcod.info.
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