It took just two generations. In the seventies only about 5 percent of our children were obese. In the eighties, childhood obesity was considered an “issue of possible concern.” In the nineties it progressed from a definite concern to today’s epidemic.
Type 2 diabetes follows along the same path. During the last 30 years, type 2 diabetes has increased 1,000 percent, with more than 4,100 new cases diagnosed every day. And, more than 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight or obese. An estimated 92 percent of the growing number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
Now, consider that the foods we choose to eat on a daily basis (yes, that’s choose to eat) contribute 80 percent to whether we will develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer. But, consider too, that just a 7 percent weight loss can result in a 58 percent improvement in the risk of progressing from prediabetes to diabetes. (This part at least can be seen as good news.)
So here we are . . . and where are we going?
Sure, there’s plenty of blame to pass around. As food becomes more processed, we all consume more sugar, fat and salt. We spend more time in front of screens. We don’t cook, we bring dinner home in a bag or box. We’ve become used to larger portions and all-you-can-eat buffets. Snacks are now sized and bagged for convenience—chips, cookies, candy, bite-size chocolate bars—but who stops at just one? And, don’t forget soda. It’s grown up too, from the 6.5 oz. bottles to a “big gulp.” No longer special treats, these “snacks” now account for 50 percent of calories consumed by children ages 2 to 18 . . . and 40 percent of those calories are nutritionally empty. Keep in mind, these are ‘learned’ behaviors. They can be ‘unlearned.’ (So, this too can be good news if we take the responsibility to make a few positive changes.)
Still, none of this changes the fact that for the first time in 200 years, this current generation of children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents because of totally preventable diseases. We can all agree that this legacy is unconscionable. Yes, here we are, and it’s past time to move forward. But we can . . . the question is, will we?