Nutrition and weight status is a universal concern. Everyone eats, and should eat nutritious food that allows them to maintain a healthy weight. Sadly, most Americans today are battling obesity and over weight problems. Our schools, worksites, health care organizations, and communities can help by providing healthy food as well as educating people in how to make better choices.
Overweight and obesity is a problem for over sixty percent of Americans today. In addition to being a problem in itself, overweight contributes to other health concerns such as; heart disease, high blood pressure, poor lipid profiles, type 2 diabetes, oral disease, constipation, diverticular disease, and some cancers. Although many people do not realize it, a high calorie nutrient poor diet can also result in health problems such as malnutrition, iron deficiency anemia and osteoporosis. These conditions occur in individuals who eat too much of the wrong foods, and ever though they are overweight they still are not receiving all the nutrition they need. Often the lack of nutrition contributes to the weight gain cycle when the body reacts by sending signals to eat more and the individual continues to make poor nutritional choices.
Our institutions and communities can help by educating people on how to make better choices and providing more nutritionally dense foods available. Greater opportunities for exercise and physical activity are another contributing factor to create a balance between nutrition, and weight status. Even among people who are at a healthy weight, there are individuals who do not have the developed muscle structure they need, these people appear healthy but actually are undernourished with an unhealthy fat to muscle balance. These individuals have some of the same risks as overweight people when it comes to weight related health problems.
One of the best opportunities for education is in public schools. It is a long established fact that overweight children grow up to be overweight adults. Public schools can address nutrition and weight problems on many levels. In the classrooms, they can educate children about dietary needs and how they relate to the human body, by structuring classes to include biology, metabolism, diet and nutrition. They can offer classes on how to purchase and prepare healthy food. Schools also can eliminate unhealthy food choices in the lunchroom. They can also encourage students to participate in sports and other physical education.
Individuals who live in an urban setting often face greater challenges finding health food than their suburban counterparts. A shortage of large supermarkets that carry an array of fresh fruits and vegetables limits the ability for these people to buy the diverse, nutrient dense foods they need for themselves and their families. Increasing the opportunities for urban farmers markets and the establishment of food coops are two ways that communities can help address this problem. Community centers offering physical education and exercise classes help urban residents maintain a healthy weight status. These concerns are often addressed on a local community basis however; there is a need to develop a larger, national plan to improve food distribution and education resources across the country.
Healthy eating, weight management and exercise often involve particular regional concerns as well. Outdoor exercise is affected by weather conditions, sometimes it is just too cold and icy, or too hot, to exercise outside. Local agriculture slows and ceases during the winter in many states. Because of this, some programs need to be established on a regional basis. Some states have advanced resources for their citizens. As with other programs, these must be monitored to see if they are generating lasting health benefits. The United States Department of Agriculture is working with some states to create and maintain develop programs. Georgia’s “Live Health Georgia Campaign” and “Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan” are two examples of programs reaching out to parents, caregivers and public health professionals to provide information related to early childhood nutrition and physical activity information. Sometimes the initiative comes from a private or state university. Cornell University has an outreach program devoted to educating New Yorkers on the regional opportunities available to them.
Demographics also play into the considerations. Exercise for elderly people has its own set of concerns. Participants and health fitness specialists must take the individual’s health, fitness level and age; it is not just one homogeneous group. Many elderly persons benefit the most from a fitness center where heart rate breathing rate and blood pressure can be monitored throughout the exercise session. Unfortunately, as with access to fresh unprocessed food, this type of fitness center may not be available to all. This is unfortunate as the proper exercise program can slow and even reverse loss of bone mass, muscle mass and strength associated with aging in addition to the universal benefits of exercise enjoyed by the rest of the population.
The highest demographics for obesity and overweight in adults are middle-aged people and non-Hispanic black and Mexican American women. Among children and adolescents Mexican American children and non-Hispanic, black girls are most likely to have weight related problems. The relationship between weight and income varies with age, gender and race.
Tracking the efficacy of new and innovative policies and interventions to support diet and physical activities presents its own set of problems. Many people find themselves caught up in a “yo yo” pattern of weight loss and gain. An effective policy must help people sustain a healthy weight and diet. Losing weight and improving physical condition are only the first steps. Maintaining a healthy weight and activity is the goal. To determine the success of a particular program the participants must be tracked over a period of time to be sure that the intervention was truly successful.
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