By Dean L. Jones
Sports competition drives a large portion of our overall American economy. Sarcastically, however when it comes to personal weight and eating habits there is no competition. We eat and drink at will and do not think about being competitive toward healthy eating habits. In the national young classification, 29.2% of white girls are overweight or obese compared to 36.1% of black and 37.0% Hispanic girls. About 40% of Hispanic boys are overweight or obese, compared to 34.4% and 27.8% of black and white boys, respectively. Classifying the 12-19 years of age, Hispanic boys 39.6% are overweight or obese, where the 12-19 age group of black girls 42.5% are overweight or obese.
These are some startling statistics for a competitive nation. Which leaves ample room for better health practices to slow down heart disease that has moved down to younger age groups who are championing poorer eating habits. The percentage of adult whites that are overweight is 63.2%, obese 32.8%, and extreme obesity 7.4%. Black adults that are overweight is 82.0%, obese 56.6%, and extremely obese 16.4%. Hispanic adults that are overweight is 77.2%, obese 41.4%, and extremely obese 7.6%.
In speaking to a friend today who is regularly losing weight attributes her weight reduction to eliminating sodas from her diet. Where before sodas were a main beverage with meals, she has dropped fifty pounds in a year simply from drinking water instead of any sugary filled beverage product. Newly added to her arsenal of improved dining habits is knowing how drinking just two diet drinks a week can increase a person’s risk of an early death from heart disease.
All of this would be better put if it were in a competitive arena, however, slow and steady does win the race. For instance, in 1998 records show that the average American drank 52 gallons of soda in one year. Last year Americans drank 44 gallons of soda, representing a 3% reduction in soda sales. Better still was recorded for diet sodas that saw a 6% drop in the number of sodas purchased. The packaged food and beverage manufacturers are our major opponent in the game of weight, and they are no competition once people see how their health improves with beating the urge for a sugary foodstuff.
Succinctly, the brain releases dopamine whenever we eat something sweet, which sends out a pleasure communication from the brain’s reward center. The appetite-regulating hormone leptin is also released, which eventually informs the brain when the “full” level is reached once a certain amount of calories have been ingested. In contrast, when we consume something non-calorically (i.e. an artificial sweetener) sweet, the brain’s pleasure pathway is still activated by the sweet taste, but there’s nothing to deactivate it, since the body is still waiting for the calories, resulting in a non-competitive situation of overeating.
Dean Jones, Ethics Advocate, Southland Partnership Corporation (a public benefit organization), contributes his view on health attributes of packaged foods & beverages.