Sleep, Exercise, and the Obesity Epidemic: You Are What You Eat- Part 4
Our lives depend on sleep in order to remain healthy and productive in our waking reality. Getting the recommended number of hours of sleep boosts our memory, mood, feelings, emotional stability, and cognitive function; repairs our body; reduces stress and inflammation, which improves our ability to fight off illness, infection, and disease; improves our learning skills, patience, productivity, concentration, reasoning and problem solving skills; and a host of other health benefits. Every human being requires sleep to survive and thrive in the physical world, but few get the recommended number of hours each night.
According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States, one out of every three adults, 35 percent, do not get the minimum recommended amount of seven hours of sleep each night. The American work ethic places the United States above other countries in terms of productivity and success, but sleep is often the first area of our lives that we reduce, as it interferes with the amount of time that we have to accomplish our goals for the day. Lack of sleep in the United States is treated as a sense of pride and accomplishment that we can stay awake longer than others to get more done, but this ethos threatens our cognitive ability and leads to much of our societies suffering and poor health quality.
In 1910, Americans slept an average of nine hours each night; today, the national average is less than seven, with 40 percent of the country getting less than six hours and 12 percent of American adults getting less than five hours of sleep each night. In total, 83 million Americans are sleep deprived and over 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea. As our society and culture speeds up, and digital devices increase in number, Americans will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and prevent the external world from interfering with the fundamental human requirement of rest and recovery.
To counteract our sleep deprivation issue, Americans are turning to their favorite solution to a difficult problem, pills. Rather than figure out a solution that does not involve altering your neurochemistry with dangerous and poorly tested medication, many Americans are relying on sleeping pills for a quick and simple solution that does not require a lifestyle change. Over nine million American adults take some form of sleeping pill like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata, spending more than $41 billion a year; and while medication as potent as sleeping pills are suggested for a limited amount of time, many people remain on the drug for years.
Like other medications that are recommended for short-term use, sleeping pills become a part of many Americans routine, people rely on the pill and identify themselves with it. This flippant attitude and the prolonged use of prescription sleeping pills may lead to dangerous and deadly side effects that range from: Suicidal thoughts; headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and vomiting; slower cognitive function and memory processing; loss of focus and slurred speech; amnesia and sleepwalking; general weakness, constipation, and diarrhea; poor balance and loss of motor function.
A combination of sleeping pills and anti-psychotic, depression medication, weight loss pills or some other prescribed or over-the-counter pill turns the human body into a chaotic drug cocktail; and like these other medications, the bodies tolerance to sleeping pills builds up over time, which requires that the user take more as time goes on to reach the same effect. By interfering with your bodies hormones, neurotransmitters, and chemical equilibrium with the consumption of prescription medication, and without altering you way of life, you are more likely to become dependent on the pill, which may impact other areas of your life and your relationships with others.
If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, ask yourself why. Try to take a holistic approach that does not immediately resort to the simple solution of popping a pill. Find the time to implement an exercise routine, introduce a healthier diet into your daily schedule, and remove excessive junk food, distractions, and clutter from your life before committing to prescription medication. Our bodies are self-correcting biological organisms evolutionary adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to repair, restore, survive, and thrive in the physical world. When we relinquish the personal responsibility of taking care of our minds and bodies through proper diet, sleep, and exercise, and hand it over to a profit-driven corporations selling magic pills for the sake of resorting to the convenient, time-effective, and simple solution, we sacrifice what makes us human and what connects us as an advanced, complex, animal race.
Poor Sleep, Lack of Sleep, Sleep Deprivation
Increases likelihood of: Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; encourages poor eating habits and greater calorie intake; lower metabolic rate; increases abdominal fat; increases likelihood of overweight and obesity; affects appetite hormones (ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that regulate appetite and fullness), which leads to decreased calorie burning and increased fat storage; greater likelihood of getting into a car accident from drowsiness (one out of every five car accidents, 20 percent, are a result of drowsy driving); lower cognitive function; increase likelihood of stroke, heart disease; weaker immune system to fight off infections and illness; reduces fat cells ability to respond properly to insulin, which is crucial for energy use and storage; affects the bodies ability to process glucose in the blood (insulin sensitivity), which may lead to type-2 diabetes; high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
- Adults, age 20+: 7 to 9 hours.
- Teenagers, age 13-19: 8 to 10 hours (only 31 percent of high school students get eight hours or more).
- Child, age 6-12: 9 to 12 hours
- Child, age 3-5: 10 to 13 hours
- Toddler, age 1-2: 11 to 14 hours
- Infant, age 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours
- Newborn: 14-17 hours.
Fast and Junk Food Marketing
Marketing and advertising in the United States are embedded into the fabric of American culture, a by-product of the capitalist ideology that defines our society and separates us from other nations. Marketing in ethical and compassionate hands allows our society to move forward as healthy and productive human beings, but in the wrong hands of those that seek to dominate the market with greed and power, marketing can be used to manipulate and corrupt the minds of the uninformed, and still worse, the minds of unassuming children that lack the intellectual tools to differentiate between deceitful advertising from corporations and regular internet or television programming.
Americans are easily distracted, susceptible and influenced by clever marketing techniques without realizing the subtle nature and misleading statements that cloud the actual health consequences of particular fast food, junk food, and sugary beverage products. Unless we approach deceitful marking practices with a skeptical eye that challenges unproven statements and untested results from profit-driven corporations, then Americans will continue to fall into the same habits and patterns of our past that have allowed our minds and bodies to be infected by unhealthy food and beverage products.
Marketing and advertising from fast and junk food companies, as well as soda and cereal companies, are commonplace in the United States, but as children spend less time exercising and playing outside, and more time in front of screens, they are exposed to greater amounts of ads from unhealthy food and beverage companies. Each year, Americas youth see hundreds of television ads for sugary drinks; in 2010, for example, preschoolers viewed an average of 213 ads for sugary drinks, while children and teens viewed an average of 277 and 406 ads, respectively.
Children watch an average of 10 food related ads every day; 75 percent of these food ads are for unhealthy products. Statistics show that as children confront more ads for unhealthy products, the likelihood that they will purchase or ask their parent to purchase that specific product increases, which is the purpose of advertising and the reason why billion dollar corporations spend millions of dollars a year individually and billions of dollars collectively to influence and persuade the minds of consumers.
Fast Food and Beverage Industry Ad Spending
The inherent corruption that defines the American political and economic system allows for the unchecked and unregulated flow of money into the government to bribe and manipulate the opinions of elected officials into passing laws and regulations that benefit corporations in the short-term, but harms individual consumers and the planet as time goes on and health and planetary consequences increase in number.
The Supreme Court defines unlimited political campaign donations by corporations as a form of First Amendment protected free speech, which means that the abundance of free speech is concentrated in the hands of those few faceless and amoral corporations with the most time, money, and resources to manipulate the minds of flippant and careless politicians whose only purpose is not to influence society and move it forward into a positive and healthier future, but to remain elected; and the corrupt political game of reelection goes to those soulless politicians most willing to sacrifice their values and ideals and replace them with the values of the corporations that donate the most money.
Follow the money; where you find the wealthiest individuals and the most profitable corporations, you will also find the oldest and most corrupt politicians selling out their elected position to the highest bidder. This infected political system is treated as just another aspect of the rigged social game that Americans view as hopeless, but by expelling our ignorance and expanding our knowledge and awareness of the system, Americans can regain control of the government to make it beneficial for the common people and not for politicians and corporations that lack the care or understanding of the fundamental truths and concepts of basic human reality.
Like the First Amendment protected free speech of unlimited campaign bribes, the marketing and advertising of products that are known to cause the body and the mind harm are treated as commercially protected free speech; this allows the food and beverage industry to legally spend billions of dollars every year on marketing and advertising directly to children, ages 2 to 18. The fast food industry, alone, spends $5 million every day on marketing to children, with top fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s combining to spend $4.6 billion on advertising every year. One out of every six dollars spent on food advertising in the United States comes from McDonald’s, which spent $972 million in 2012, 2.7 times more than all of the fruit, vegetable, and water advertising combined ($367 million; $116 on fruit and vegetable alone).
Healthy products sell themselves, consumers do not require convincing to purchase them, where as people’s primal and impulsive brains must be tricked and manipulated into consuming unhealthy food products because they lack the vitamins and nutrients of whole and natural foods. In addition to the enormous marketing budget of the fast food industry, the soda industry, with companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, spend over $7 billion on advertising every year; while the alcohol industry spends over $2 billion. In 1969, Congress passed a law banning smoking, cigarette ads on television and radio; the same must be done to protect consumers from deadly fast and junk food advertising.
The food and beverage lobby that is responsible for influencing, manipulating, and bribing politicians to pass favorable laws, spend millions of dollars every year to expand their billion dollar profits. Some of the biggest manipulators donate the most amount of money and make up some of the largest and most recognized food and beverage brands in American culture, including: Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, Mars Candy Company (M&M’s, Snickers, Twix, Skittles, Milky Way, Starburst), Hershey Candy Company, American Beverage Association (a trade organization that represents the beverage industry), Yum Food Brand (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut).
In 2014, these companies, and others in the food and beverage industry, spent $32.5 million on lobbying and bribing Congress members to pass laws that discourage food and nutrition labeling in grocery stores and at restaurants or legislation that makes it more difficult to know the ingredients of particular food, among other laws that are harmful to consumers and interfere with our knowledge and understanding about the products that we consume. The food and beverage spending on government bribes increased to $34.2 million in 2015, before dropping to $31.1 million in 2016, $28.5 million in 2017, and $22.3 million, so far, in 2018.
To allow a faceless industry to consistently spend $30 million every year to influence federal officials that they have zero involvement in electing, while the American population, supposedly responsible for voting for the politicians, sits back to watch it all happen; to watch the politicians enrich themselves off of our tax dollars; to watch corporations destroy the planet for their own profit and our own suffering; to watch laws and regulations pass that harm human health and progress, shows that our advanced, modern and industrialized civilization lakes the fundamental principles of an intelligent race. To allow this corrupt, absurd, and outdated political system to survive with all of our current knowledge and understanding in the modern era shows how much ignorance still runs deep into the fabric of our culture. An American society of enlightened individuals would not put up with this level of systemic corruption and the consequences that keep the people uninformed with lower health standards and quality of life.
Policies and Programs
The socioeconomic gap between the richest and poorest Americans often impacts the type of food purchasing behavior that people exhibit. For poor Americans, when faced with the expensive, but less calorie dense food item, or the less expensive, but more calorie dense food item, such as an item purchased from a gas station or a fast food restaurant, the poor family will often choose the latter to get the most for their money. This type of logic in the short-term may save time, money, and allow for more time at work to coincide with the American work ethic, but as families continually choose the unhealthy option, their quality of life will decrease and may cost them greater amounts of money in medical bills and missed work days from sickness.
While the United States government is slow to protect the citizens from corporations, several laws and policies have been implemented to lower the socioeconomic gap between the rich and the poor. Policies like the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. These programs, among others, encourage healthier food choices and provide women, children, minorities, and lower-income families with greater opportunities to afford fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other vitamin and nutrient dense foods.
Trust for Americas Health and the Robert Wood Foundation recommend three guidelines and principles for governments to implement to prevent obesity:
- Promote policies and scale programs that take a multi-sector approach. This means programs that confront the economic gap; the safety of communities so people can exercise outdoors without feeling threatened from a hostile environment; the location and number of farmers markets and health food stores in poorer communities. 33 states have implemented, complete streets policies to encourage and facilitate walking and biking.
- Adopt and implement policies that make the healthy food choice easier for people. 35 states have made healthy food financing initiative investments to increase healthy food access in underserved, low-income and minority communities.
- Invest in programs that level the socioeconomic playing field.
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requires nutrition labels on most food and beverage item. This program was updated in 2016 to include larger text that makes calories and serving size more prominent on the food label and now includes the percentage of daily value for added sugars. Deceptive food labeling by corporations prevent consumers from knowing the ingredients, number of calories, fat or sugar content, in particular food items. The FDA estimates that, with the implementation of the Nutrition Labeling Act, which affects over 300,000 food serving establishments in the United States, the economy could save up to $8 billion on obesity related illness over the next 20 years and prevent over 41,000 cases of childhood obesity.
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provides free and reduced price breakfast and lunch to over 30 million school children. The USDA implemented new nutrition standards in schools to align with the updated dietary guidelines to increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lower the consumption of added sugar and fat. Since 2009, the USDA has provided more than $200 million in grants for schools to update their kitchen and cafeteria equipment to encourage healthier food options.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is America’s largest nutrition assistance program, which helps feed over 40 million Americans each month. SNAP received over $74 billion in funding in 2018 to provide people with disabilities, the elderly, and children an average of $128.57 per month/$4.29 per day to purchase food. Two-thirds of of SNAP recipients are children; health research and statistics show that access to the SNAP program helps reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes) during pregnancy and early childhood. SNAP has helped reduce the number of food insecure families by 17 percent and helps keep millions of American children and adults out of poverty by providing them with a source of income to purchase food. Over 265,000 locations redeem SNAP benefits; but the ubiquitous nature of the program allows certain liquor stores, dollar stores, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and gas stations to accept SNAP funds, which means that recipients are free to purchase unhealthy food items using their government provided money. From 2010-2015, 12 percent of SNAP benefits, $8 billion, were redeemed at these locations, which offer few to no healthy food options. For this program to function as intended, then there must be stricter health and nutrition standards that prevent gas stations and fast food restaurants from taking advantage of American taxpayer funded nutrition programs.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), serves 8 million women and children up to age five, including 1.9 million infants. The WIC program received $6 billion in funding in 2018, with $60 million in direct benefits to encourage breastfeeding, which lowers obesity and diabetes risk in young children and decreases their likelihood of becoming obese adults. National obesity rates among children enrolled in WIC declined in 31 states in 2014. WIC increases the likelihood that young children receive the recommended amount of vitamins and nutrients, fruits, vegetables and whole grains; new 2017 nutrition standards require more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and less added sugar and fat. The WIC program is reevaluated regularly to ensure that it meets U.S. dietary guidelines.
How to Prevent Obesity
Our obesity epidemic comes from the overabundance of unhealthy food and the relative ease and simplicity of finding and consuming that food at any time of the day without physical energy exertion. Simplifying our lives in the direction towards comfort and convenience contributes to the general increase in sedentary lifestyles. Obesity requires a consistent and concerted effort over many years to choose the unhealthy option and shun physical exercise. By allowing profit-driven corporations to deceive Americans with deceitful marketing tactics that hide the health consequences of particular food items, we have sacrificed the most important aspect of life as a human being, our health. In order to overcome the obesity epidemic, Americans must recover the personal responsibility that has been relinquished for the sake of comfort and implement a sustainable, healthy diet and exercise routine that can be maintained throughout our lifetime.
There needs to be a fundamental and systemic reset in how Americans live their lives, where our priorities lie, and what we view as success. People are sleeping less than ever; working more than ever; making less money for their work; eating more unhealthy foods than ever; sitting more than ever; exercising less than ever; paying more for healthcare than ever. For what? Are our levels of happiness, wellbeing and fulfillment in the modern world enough to allow the Standard American Diet and Lifestyle to continue? This question and realization eludes many Americans that lack the time and energy to address these fearful, life confronting issues.
Human beings are goal driven, yet many people lack the commitment to set and follow through with their weight loss plan because of the fear of failure and the subsequent emotions that failing a weight loss plan may have on the mind and body. Failing to commit to a weight loss plan does not mean failing in life. Do not let the fear or pain caused by trying something new prevent you from overcoming the difficulties of weight loss. Wake up each day with a plan to succeed and defeat that voice in your head whose goal it is to throw you off track. Set daily goals; write things down; have a schedule and make commitments; exercise regularly; follow a healthy and sustainable eating plan and stay away from fad-diets that guarantee success. Every persons body type is different, find a sustainable, healthy lifestyle exercise and eating plan that works for you; monitor your weight regularly; recognize what, when, where, how often, why you eat. When that dark, impulsive, and primal voice in your head demands that you drive to the nearest fast food location, go home, sit down, eat, and then fall asleep, there must be that competing, louder voice that demands exercise, a healthy meal and a sound sleep worthy of a successful days work. That voice of sloth and gluttony will always exist, but so will your conscious inner human voice of logic and reason.