The Wasatch Behind: Fat, fatter and fattest
"Good grief," Uncle Spud exclaimed as he put his newspaper down and wiped potato chip crumbs from his whiskers, shirt and fingers. "According to the news, Americans are having an epidemic of obesity. We're getting so fat it's affecting every aspect of our lives, from our physical and mental health to the size of airline and theater seats."
"I'm not fat," I scolded him. "I have this bulge over my belt buckle because I've been working my guts out."
"Corn chips and Pepsi will do that to you," Spud grinned.
"Well, okay, maybe I am just a little overweight, but give me a break, I'm a senior citizen now and we all gain a few pounds as we get older."
"Actually, Utah isn't as bad as most other states when it comes to obesity," Spud said. "Around here, 23 percent of the population is obese while another 35 percent is pleasantly plump. You know, just overweight. That means 58 percent of us have been eating too many calories for the amount of exercise we get."
"What's the difference between obese and overweight?"
"It's determined by a formula called the Body Mass Index," Spud said. "Multiply your weight by 703 and divide that number by your height in inches squared. If the number you get is below 25 you are not overweight. If the number is between 25 and 30, you are overweight. Between 30 and 35 you are obese. 35 to 40 is Stage II obesity, and anything 40 and above is Stage III and you probably spend all of your time sitting because you can't walk."
"Jeepers," I said. "And 58 percent of all Utahans are overweight or obese?"
"That's right," he exclaimed.
"How did this happen?" I asked.
"Sedentary living," Spud replied. "Most of us don't have physically demanding jobs anymore, and fewer and fewer of us workout or get enough exercise. Cheap, plentiful convenience foods loaded with sugary calories have become the norm. Hardly anyone cooks at home anymore. We use the microwave to warm up pre-packaged, pre-cooked, high calorie fodder, or we eat grease and salt at the fast food places. Most kids have never tasted oatmeal or homemade beans and casseroles."
"How do we compare with the rest of the country?" I asked.
"The fattest area of our country is in the deep South, Mississippi and Alabama," he said. "There, 34 percent of the population is obese and another 35 percent is overweight. That means 69 percent of everybody is super-sized, compared to Utah's 58 percent. And, Utah is the sixth leanest state in the nation. Colorado comes in at number one for skinny people, the only state in the nation with an obesity rate below 20 percent.
What's scary is that 15 years ago no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. Now all but one does. An obesity tsunami is sweeping the whole country."
"So what's the problem with gaining a few pounds?" I asked.
"Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, to name only a few," Spud said. "The rate of type II (adult onset) diabetes in Utah increased by half between 1995 and 2010, from 4.3 percent to 6.2 percent. At that rate, we're experiencing an epidemic."
"What to do?" I asked.
"It's simple," Spud said. "Consume fewer calories and eat a more healthy, balanced diet. Nothing goes on your hips and waistline that didn't go through your mouth first. Cook more at home and pay attention to what's on the menu. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Cut down on salt, fats, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Turn off the TV and get more exercise. Hoe the garden, walk the dog or sign up for clogging lessons."
"But what are we going to do with this mega-sized bag of chips now that we're going to start eating carrots and broccoli?" I asked.
"Mother always said we should never waste food," Spud said soberly. "I guess we'll have to eat them before we peel the carrots."
"Would you like some Dip?" I asked as I passed the dish.
"Sure," he smiled. "And we had better drink that gallon jug of root beer while were at it."
"Ah, life is good," I munched.
"Would you like ice cream with that root beer?" he asked.