Sunday, July 22, 2007

Smoking Conquered; Obesity Is Next

In this screen capture from a Family Guy episode, a young "Death" wears a T-shirt that reads "Smoke Cigarettes." From many popular culture references such as this, it is evident that most people realize the health dangers from smoking. A recent Gallup poll suggests that Americans are now realizing the dangers of obesity.

Regular readers know that I have spent the better part of the past two months indirectly fighting diabetes. Not for me, but for rural Hispanics in West Texas.

We are currently testing public service announcements (PSAs) that we created over the past few weeks.

In the current experiment, we are showing the anti-diabetes PSAs along with some filler PSAs about smoking, AIDS, marijuana, and cocaine.

During an experiment the other day, master's student Wes Wise remarked that the battle on smoking was pretty much won. Now, he predicted, more efforts could be targeted toward obesity and related health problems.

Turns out that many Americans are at least acknowledging the danger of obesity. A recent Gallup Poll shows that Americans acknowledge that being significantly overweight is just as harmful to your health as smoking.

Of those polled, 83% said being obese was "very harmful" to your health, whereas 79% of Americans said smoking was "very harmful" to your health.

When we surveyed rural West Texas Hispanics earlier this year, we found that about half were overweight according to the Body Mass Index, and another quarter were overweight. That's more than two-thirds of those polled.

Echoing the diabetes problem, many of our experimental participants are self reporting family members with serious diabetes-related health problems. Many of the participants report having lost a loved one to diabetes.

According to the Gallup poll, 28% of Americans report that obesity has been a cause of serious health problems within their family. I would venture to guess that this number is higher among our populations of rural West Texans (of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic descent).

Although we will learn something from the current endeavor, PSAs will not be enough. Our focus group data has shown that there are two major causes of the current eating concerns: economy of time, and economy of money (thanks again to Wes Wise for coining these terms).

It's faster and cheaper to eat at the dollar menu. You can walk out of McDonald's absolutely stuffed for about $3.21 in Texas. Just order two double cheeseburgers and a 99-cent order French fries.

It's a lot of food. It's also a lot of grease. I just looked up the nutrition facts online. Each 99-cent double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturated fat. Those 11 grams of saturated fat represent 54% of the recommended daily allowance for a 2,000 calorie a day diet. The medium fries add another 380 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat.

So your $3.21 bought you 1,260 calories, 66 grams of total fat, and 26 grams of saturated fat. With that one meal you have 128% of the saturated fat you were supposed to eat for the day.

It is almost impossible to get that much sustenance for that little money in any other fashion. And when you're broke with a lot of mouths to feed -- and I've been there -- it's difficult to look at the single bunch of broccoli that the $3.21 will buy.

Add to the fact that for most people, those fat and carbohydrate grams taste really good. There's a reason they taste so good: you get the most energy (i.e., calories) per gram with those molecules. When you're just trying to survive, fat and carbs keep you alive.

When I was a little kid, our house backed up against the old Missouri River bluffs, and much of that land was a park. Since the bluffs made a cliff, it was basically our private park since no one climbed the cliff to get there.

My father used to like to photograph the wildlife, so one day he put out a dog food bowl full of bacon grease. The animals went crazy. I believe raccoons would just lay by the bowl lapping up that congealed bacon grease as if it were pure heaven. Scavenging from trash cans had never tasted so good! [If dad will send a picture, I will post it here].

Their bowl of bacon grease is our dollar menu and all-you-can-eat buffet. You cannot get much more appetitive than that. And unlike illegal drugs where you can get arrested right now, the danger from overeating is distant. Your heart does not stop today. You do not have a stroke today. You do not lose your foot to diabetes today.

So you eat from the dollar menu today. You'll eat right tomorrow. Sadly, for too many Americans that healthy eating tomorrow never comes.

I'm not picking on McDonald's. They claim to be committed to Hispanics, and I am sure that they mean it. But combining the dollar menu with any economically disadvantaged population does not and cannot encourage healthy eating.

Our research project is funded by the West Texas Rural EXPORT Center, however, opinions shared here are solely my own.

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Blogger Samuel D. Bradley said...

As I was publishing this post, Mr. Wise sent me a link from today's New York Times for a story titled, "Did McDonald’s Give In to Temptation?"

The story includes the following quotation:

"Given those results, a new McDonald’s menu item is a bit of a stunner. Remember Supersize sodas? They’re back, except this time the chain is trying a new name. Meet the “Hugo,” a 42-ounce drink now available for as little as 89 cents in some markets. A Hugo soda contains about 410 calories.

"McDonald’s might as well have called it the Tubbo.

"Making matters worse, Hugo ads are available in several languages, making sure that minorities — who are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic — are aware of the budget beverage."

I hope you can see the seriousness of the obesity problem.

2:19 PM  
Blogger theaudioprof said...

Not usually a big fan of reality shows, I'd recommend the summer replacement show on ABC called Shaq's Big Challenge . It really let me in on issues such as the disappearance of ANY sort of Physical Education in the schools, the tough job of planning nutritious lunches that not only kids will eat but that the hard-working lunch ladies can prepare in the 3-hours they have to work with. Plus, follows around 6 very overweight kids who are stuggling to change their lifestyles.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've watched every episode of Shaq's Big Challenge.

Challenging is an understatement.

Last week's show focused on the school lunches. It's tough for school children to not become obese when healthy lunch options are virtually unavailable, unless they pack.

- Tim

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The risk of becoming obese is 40% higher among children who have one obese parent. For this reason it is extremely important to educate children to eat correctly since the first years of life. All these consequences must spur parents to improve and make children’s lifestyle more healthy.

6:26 AM  
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