Brent Lockridge, CNP
A Global Health Crisis
I was looking through some older photographs online the other day. Most of them were old black and white photos from the 1950’s and 60’s in urban and rural North America and Europe. These particular photos were of people out enjoying outdoor summer pursuits such as walking and sunning at the beach. As I got through a number of them it occurred to me that the vast majority, if not all, the adults and children in these pictures looked slim, and for the most part relatively healthy. I then searched for some similar pictures from the past two decades and came upon some stark differences. The more recent photos surely had some trim, healthy looking adults and children, but that was not the majority. No, the majority of people out enjoying the beach and amusement parks in these more recent photos revealed to me just how much our physical health has deteriorated in the past four or five decades in the developed world.
The statistics bear this out. Globally, there are 2 billion people who are considered either overweight or obese, and 40 million children under the age of five are overweight.[i] For the first time in human history we now have more individuals that are overfed versus underfed on our planet. So what! So we have collectively put on a bit of weight over the last few decades, what’s the big deal? Well let’s consider for starters the health implications. The medical consequences of those extra pounds contribute to millions of premature deaths every year, and for many a very poor quality of life past middle age (known as a reduced healthspan). In fact, the chronic diseases that are now widespread in our culture, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer that were almost unheard of in the early twentieth century, are increasing at a pace that will push our healthcare system to its financial limits.
So what happened? What has changed in that short (evolutionally speaking) time period? In the 1950’s we thought we had it all under control. At that time, it was infectious diseases that were our concern, but with the advent of vaccines and antibiotics health officials claimed the war on disease had be won (oops! I think we got a little ahead of ourselves there). With industrial progress our lives changed dramatically, and so did our food. Gone were the days that we relied primarily on fresh garden fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other whole foods as the staples in our diet. The modern family was more inclined to rely on canned, packaged and frozen processed foods and takeout foods. Foods that were rich in meat and dairy products, and loaded with salt, fats and sugar, not to mention over 10,000 different chemical additives, most of which have not been tested for long term effects on human health. The average North American diet now currently consists of 86% meat, dairy and processed foods, leaving a paltry 14% of foods to come from fruits, vegetables (by the way half of that 14% is french fries….oh boy!) and whole grains.[ii] In 1950 Canadians were consuming 8 pounds of cheese per year, in 2014 that number grew to 27 pounds per year. These were not the foods our species evolved with, far from it.
When you consider the change in our diet in the last century, along with dramatic lifestyle changes such as dysfunctional sleep habits, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, exposure to environmental toxins, and the slow breakdown of our communities, it’s no wonder our approach to well-being needs a reboot. The good news is that the information we need to improve our health, everything we need to implement on a daily basis, is out there, and it is not complicated or difficult to practice. Surely it will mean picking up some new habits, but we all have habits, we just need to align them with moving toward good health. There are millions of people leading a healthy, purposeful life every day, and you can too.
The series of articles that follow will take a head first dive into the wide range of health promoting habits. From nutrition and sleep, to stress management and leading an active life and more. We will explore how we can employ some small (and some not so small) changes that will have a positive impact on our health and well-being, all in the pursuit of creating a long prosperous healthspan.
[i] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1049361 Obesity rates soar due to dramatic global diet shift, says UN food agency
[ii] Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture