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McMurtrys Dream Job
People and Pets
Artwork by Todd
to be no end to pointing out the obvious when it comes to American
Through news stories and surveys, were kept painfully aware
of our weight 300,000 Americans die each year from obesity-related
health problems, and we spend $117 billion a year as a country trying
to deal with it.
Traditional thinking says its our own fault, but UNTs
Priscilla Connors says this may not be entirely true.
We certainly have a level of personal responsibility, but
it can also be said that we live in a somewhat toxic environment,
says Connors, a nutritionist and
assistant professor of hospitality management.
colleague Edward Lopez, assistant professor of economics, says even
though obesity hurts us on a national level, in some ways its
beneficial in our day-to-day lives. While obesity costs us millions
in health care as a nation, individuals can live surprisingly cheaply
on what Lopez calls one of the more visible contributors to
obesity in America fast food.
Everyone eats it. And everyone knows its not healthy,
especially when eaten regularly, he says. But its
cheap and convenient.
Even with added convenience, our lifestyles are still fast paced,
Lopez says. And our diet of fast food is a way weve adapted.
Along with urban sprawl has come longer commute times and
more time spent in the car, he says. This increases
the demand for fast food because the convenience of it fits with
a hurried lifestyle. Theres a demand for convenience, so theres
a demand for fast food.
says that to an extent weve all been super-sized
by fast-food chains competing in a size war. Chains
sell large amounts of cheap food rather than reasonable portions
of high-quality food, she says.
A prime example is the size of an order of fries what was
a standard order a few decades ago now belongs in a kids meal.
But the real question is which came first: Did fast-food chains
increase portion sizes, or did customers demand larger portions?
Connors believes its the latter.
Yes, the fast-food industry is killing us with kindness by
providing us with what we want, she says.
Nutritionists and health experts around the country, many of whom
view our obesity as an epidemic, are coming to the same conclusion.
And they say laying guilt trips on Americans about their food choices
Weve tried for 20 years to change behavior, and it hasnt
really worked, Connors says. Now were looking
at changing the environment. Previously we said to the public, Theres
something wrong with you and youre not motivated enough to
lose weight. Now were trying to approach the fast-food
industry and work on changing the menu telling them to stop
being so generous to us.
diets cant be the only factor in increasing rates of obesity.
Karen Cogan, assistant professor of psychology, believes weve
actually done ourselves in with convenience as we continue
to gain instant gratification through technology, we become less
active and more isolated.
Our children spend much of their time playing video games, we buy
what we want online and we get out to do less than we ever have
before, she says.
Were so comfortable with getting what we want right
away and arent willing to inconvenience ourselves, she
says. Typically, diets alone dont work. The only real
way to control weight is long-term changes in our lifestyles. That
includes exercise and healthy eating.
She also believes Americans seek comfort in food in times of stress
For example, parents often cheer up children with a cookie or a
snack, Cogan says. Early on we learn to eat even when we arent
Quite often when we eat, its not about the food,
she says. We eat when were sad to fill an emptiness,
and we eat when were happy to celebrate the joy. Food is a
comfort. When we feel out of control, eating or not eating is one
thing we can control in our lives.
also receive mixed messages from television and film, Cogan says.
The food industry, including the fast-food industry, spends an estimated
$30 billion a year on advertising.
Part of the struggle is that we are made really aware of our
appearances, she says. Were given these images
of how were supposed to look when faced with buffets and excesses
Despite how were told we should look, the foods that add unnecessary
calories to our diet are everywhere. Vending machines in schools
bring in millions of dollars but also carry sugary soft drinks,
candy bars and other high-calorie snacks at cheap prices. Fast-food
restaurants vie for the attention of children with special kids
meals, toy tie-ins and costumed characters, all for only a few dollars.
all of this, one would think its easier to simply accept our
Lopez says the fact is that our obesity serves a purpose
it accommodates the American way of life. The only way to change
is for consumers to collectively begin making different choices,
Markets can respond in a healthy direction, too, Lopez
says. Look at movie popcorn. A few years ago it was widely
publicized that a bucket of movie popcorn had three or four times
the recommended daily fat intake.
Consumers instantly started buying less popcorn, and movie
houses started offering air-popped corn. Now butter is added separately.
Collectively, consumers can change the environment in the long term,
but in the meantime we can slowly change our habits, Connors says.
The twin issues of obesity and weight-related chronic diseases
will be with us until steps are taken to change an environment that
promotes over-consumption, she says. Until then, the
best approach is to purchase small portions, augment fast-food meals
with fresh fruits, vegetables and water, and, when served too much
throw it out.