We’re supposed to believe that our health is our own choice, that anytime we’re overweight or unhealthy, it’s our own fault. But the truth is, we live in a society that makes us sick and we are getting sicker every day. More and more of us join the ranks of the overweight and obese, with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Medical experts are saying that this generation of children will be the first in human history that will live shorter lives than their parents.
There are multiple reasons for this disturbing reality. People are less active. A recent study showed that the daily average for exercise was 19 minutes for men and nine minutes for women. More people sit in front of a screen for work, less walk to work or stores in their neighborhood, cuts to public transit and community services make it more necessary to walk less and use a car.
The rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed. One in three kids in America are overweight or obese, with rates even higher in the poorest communities. Poor people are the most likely to be obese because the cheapest food is full of fat and sugar. Counties with poverty rates of 35 percent have obesity rates 145 percent greater than wealthier counties. Budget cuts have forced schools at every level to completely cut out Physical Education so that at most, there may be one session of PE per week at many schools. Only two percent of High Schools have daily PE for students. The days when kids would walk to and from school, have a long recess where they would play, have a daily PE class, and then go to an after school sport are long gone.
The greatest obstacle to good health is time and stress: time to sleep eight hours a night, time to buy and cook nutritious meals for your family, time to play sports or exercise – essentially, time to relieve stress. But most of us don’t even have the time to go to the doctor when we are sick, much less afford the visit when we need to go. The average American worker works more hours than any other worker in the industrialized world – 378 hours more than the average German worker. Americans work, on average, one month more per year than they did in 1970. We are often working two to three jobs, with less free time and money. We eat cheap, unhealthy food because it is fast and we need to get through the work day.
After a long day at work, we come home to all the work in the house, which is even worse for women and moms. Is it any wonder then that so many of us don’t have the time or the energy or the money to keep our kids healthy and active? The average kid now spends 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen. That amounts to 114 full days a year of watching a screen for entertainment. This screen time is filled with commercials for sugar cereals and sodas that enrich large corporations. Doctors are now accustomed to seeing high cholesterol levels in four and five year-old kids.
It is not by accident that most kids do not know how much sugar there is in the soda they drink, how much fat their Double Cheeseburger contains. Corporations profit off of our ill-health. Today, it may be Coke and McDonalds that profit off of the cheap junk we eat, but tomorrow it’s drug companies like Pfizer and Johnson&Johnson selling us drugs to handle the diabetes, hypertension and heart disease these foods lead to. These corporations are profiting off making us sick – and they’re making a killing off of us.