After watching the most viewed United States presidential election debates of all time, it struck me that after the third and final debate between candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last week, neither of them have yet to address America's number one public enemy.
Aside from tax breaks, job creation and security, Americans want to feel great again. And yet neither Hillary nor Donald have discussed the number one, $200 billion-a-year problem affecting almost 40% of the American population, including one in three children. The problem? Overweight and obese Americans. Americans have never, in our entire history, been unhealthier - fat, depressed, stressed out and medicated. In the process we've even managed to decrease the lifespan of our children.
The enemy? Us. We lack education and information on the issue, we demand short-term rewards and ignore all long-term ramifications, we put corporate profits and political interests above our national wellbeing, and we create infrastructures which do nothing to facilitate a healthier lifestyle. There is no terrorist group, widespread epidemic or natural disaster that has ever affected so many citizens at such a high cost - both financial and personal. And it's all our making. And yet, when was the last time you heard either candidate mention the topic?
Of the current hot topics on the presidential campaign trail, all of which come second to personal attacks, there is room to discuss our state of un-health. Have a look at some of the figures:
-Cost of illegal immigration to the United States: Approximately $100 billion a year.
-Cost of US involvement in NATO (Trump wants out, Hillary wants in): Approximately $500 - $700 million per year.
-Cost of Tax evasion in the US: Approximately $100 billion per year.
-Deaths by Gunshot wounds in the United States: Approximately 32,000 per year (60% suicides).
-Deaths related directly to obesity: Approximately 320,000 per year.
-Obesity-related sickness: Obesity leads to the main causes of preventable death in the US namely diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain kinds of cancer.
Why is it that a $200-billion-a-year issue, with so many deaths and sickness, affecting almost 1 in every 3 Americans directly (and all of us indirectly) is totally ignored by the candidates? Because the obesity epidemic is a seriously complicated issue that involves a trillion dollars circulating amongst big food companies, advertisers, consumers, government officials, health care companies, pharmaceutical companies, and more.
As private citizens though, we are allowing our children to die younger and younger, we help sponsor the sad state of cafeteria school lunches throughout the country, and let adult and childhood diabetes ruin the lives of millions. The discouraging laws that allow advertising of food'ish substances to children from the time they are born is nothing short of scandalous.
In short, we give children processed food from day one, shorten their lifespan, and put them on medication to control the diseases they now have. The rate of childhood obesity has tripled since 1980. Obese and overweight children are five times more likely to become obese adults. It is not a child-related issue, it is an issue affecting all of us.
Why then aren't the candidates setting out some plan to address this? Why aren't they demanding us to petition our leaders in Congress? Why don't they even so much as mention it?
Because we don't ask enough of them. Through our silence, our purchasing choices, our indifference, our votes, we allow the state of un-health in our country. Corporations may be strong and wealthy beyond the individual, but if change is demanded, it will happen. Change is already happening. The dollar is a vote in itself and we can create change with our purchasing trends.
The issue is never just about being overweight as much as it is about the total and utter lack of health and wellbeing in the country. It's not about fat shaming, aesthetics or creating unhealthy and extreme relationships with food and exercise. It's about taking positive measures to help millions of sick Americans from the youngest to the oldest age groups and, most importantly, to educate and inspire Americans so that they never get sick in the first place.
What is the real cost of the obesity epidemic in the US? It cannot just be measured by the hundreds of billions it costs the healthcare system yearly. Nor can it be measured purely on the number of obese individuals or those with diabetes or other related diseases. The true cost is astronomical in the devastating impact on our national prosperity, our psyche, our level of happiness, our productivity, creativity, competitiveness in a global economy, our national defense, absenteeism, aggression, low self-esteem, brain drain and the list goes on and on.
The day will come when our elected leaders will step up to acknowledge that much more needs to be done to get our nation healthier. As individuals and communities, however, there are so many ways to effect change despite the laws and systems in place. Here are a few ideas to get you inspired, with links to explore further.
2. Vote with your dollars. Say no to food-like, processed food products that do not contain healthy ingredients. Don't support companies that serve these products - whether they are food manufacturers, fast food restaurants, and local restaurants. In fact, ask your local restaurant to include healthier options, less processed vegetable oils in their cooking, and normal portion sizes. If enough people ask, local businesses will change.
3. School lunches in elementary and secondary schools need to be improved. We cannot foster leaders, innovators and productive members of society by offering $450 million worth of processed, frozen pizza to our students every year. Or $250 million worth of frozen chicken nuggets. Parents get involved in your communities, write up petitions, and demand that your children eat better at school.
4. Nutrition and cooking should be taught to all children from Pre-K to high school. If our kids are not educated on eating good food: how to grow, buy, and make it plus how it affects our body and mind, then we have not educated them properly for their life ahead. Schools can make it inexpensive by inviting certified nutritionists several times a year, asking chefs to volunteer cooking classes, organizing contests or events around healthy food.
5. Ditto for exercise and fitness. In the United States, 96% of elementary schools offer no physical education class; while 2 out of 3 children don't get any daily physical activity at all. Many schools have cut out recess time totally in favor of adding more academics. Once again, parents must demand that children are given exercise instruction and time outdoors during the school day. It's not just about joining a sports club, it's about moving throughout the day and not allowing the time we spend sitting down in front of a screen to kill us.
6. It all starts at home. We can ask schools to change all we want, and demand our government officials to help, but our children are going to mimic our behavior so let's get cooking, eating healthy and moving!
Certainly the obesity epidemic won't be solved in the next four years. But change takes action. And yet, neither future President Elect has said a word on the issue. Certainly if someone is interested in "Making America Great Again" or getting "Stronger Together" it's going to require inspiring the country, the lawmakers, corporations, and every citizen to get on board to create a healthier nation now.