Obesity is the New Tobacco

My father lied about his age and hitched a ride on the USS Ranger to fight Rommel in North Africa.  As part of his daily ration, the US Navy gave this 17-year-old young man two packs of Marlboro cigarettes.  40 times a day, he pulled the smoke into his lungs which was a habit he continued for many years.  At the age of 56 he died from oats cell carcinoma.

A dear friend of mine was in the NFL for eight years. He was a lineman and played on four different franchises which would fine him an ungodly amount of money if his weight fell below 320 pounds.  Following his retirement, he would take daily walks with his dog until he was found dead from a massive heart attack on a local golf course. He was 56.

While smoking rates in the US among adults have declined from 42.4% of the population in 1965 to 11.5% in 2022 according to the American Lung Association, which is great progress, obesity rates over the last 60 years have tripled according to the National Institutes of Health, with just under half of all Americans (43%) classified as obese by CDC guidelines. 

Obesity is the new tobacco and today’s dietary lifestyle choices are ending American lives prematurely, and sadly, in large numbers.

Every year, 678,000 Americans die from diseases and disorders associated with high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, all tied to one’s weight and dietary choices. And Americans are NOT choosing wisely.

Each year, the average American consumes 264 pounds of beef, 123 pounds of sugar and caloric sweeteners, 39 gallons of soda, 16 gallons of milk, 40 pounds of cheese and 46 slices of pizza. It’s not just the volume of what Americans are eating, it’s the content of the very food itself. Seventy percent of our caloric intake is attributed to processed foods, which contain thousands of artificial additives, many known to cause cancer.

Is there an alternative to America’s dietary habits that can turn this around? Yes. Let’s look to our elders. A farmer down the street from me looks like a character from a 1950’s era Norman Rockwell painting. He’s tall, lean, has six children and is still active at 93 years old. He works his garden every day and sells his excess produce at the local farmer’s market.  He’s not a rich man, but he is wealthy in the sense that has outlived my father and dear friend by 37 years. Health is this man’s wealth. His secret? “I don’t trust the government and I only eat what I can catch and grow.”

It’s a shame that my children will never know their brave veteran grandfather. It’s a real shame that my dear NFL lineman friend did not live to see his daughter walk down the aisle. But that’s what happens when we make bad choices.  What we put in our bodies and how often we move…it matters. And it’s more than worth thinking about it on a daily basis. The choices we make each day can contribute to taking away our tomorrow; from not only us, but from the people who love us.