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No. 2 in the world: not necessarily a good thing

Not long ago, the United Nations issued a report essentially dethroning the United States as the world’s most obese nation. We are now ranked No. 2, right behind Mexico, a country where reportedly 33 percent of its population is obese.

However, we should not think of our move to No. 2 as cause for celebration. The United States is still facing a serious health issue when it comes to adult and child obesity.

It really doesn’t matter if we are ranked No. 2 or No. 100. Whatever the ranking, we have a serious obesity problem in this country that needs to be addressed.

The American Heart Association estimates that 78.4 million American adults and 12.7 million children are obese. Closer to home, a Centers for Disease Control report revealed that the child obesity rate in Pennsylvania increased in recent years from 11.5 to 12.2 percent.

All of these numbers are alarming when you consider that a person who is obese is at higher risk to develop serious medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

In my years of practice as a physician, I have seen firsthand the negative effects that obesity has on the human body, mind and spirit. Obesity can be debilitating both physically and mentally.

In fact, obesity has become such an epidemic in the United States that the American Medical Association recently announced that it is officially recognizing obesity as a disease rather than a condition or lifestyle choice.

Being classified as a disease will certainly draw more attention to obesity from the medical community and most likely will generate more funds for research. However, none of that takes away from the fact that obesity needs to be addressed now, by each and every one of us.

There are many factors that lead to someone being obese – eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, genetics, medical conditions, etc. One thing for sure is that we all can improve our health by focusing on two key areas: leading an active lifestyle and establishing a balanced, nutritional diet.

The good news is we all have control over how active we are and what foods we eat.

In terms of being active, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to reap the health benefits of physical activity. Studies show that even getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can help you to stay fit and trim.

The exercise can be something as simple as going for a walk or cutting the grass with a push mower. In fact, if everyone in the United States were to walk briskly 30 minutes a day, we as a nation could cut the incidence of many chronic diseases, including obesity, by 30 to 40 percent.

When it comes to nutrition, the message is clear – put some serious thought to what you are eating throughout the day.

At Capital BlueCross, we subscribe to the “MyPlate” approach to proper eating. MyPlate is a U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guide that suggests what combination of foods should make up a person’s daily dietary intake.

MyPlate is divided into sections of 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits and 20 percent protein and dairy.

To put this in perspective, 20 percent of your daily plate being protein is equivalent to a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards. We are so used to serving large portions of food, that we often forget how little we can actually eat and still get all the necessary daily nutrients.

I recognize that eating properly and exercising regularly takes a commitment. I made the commitment over the past year and have successfully lost 10 pounds.

The fight to change the obesity trend starts with an individual commitment by each of us, whether it is serving as a healthy role model for our children or taking steps to live a healthier life.

As a nation, collectively striving to be the “biggest loser” is one goal we can all impact, and as the weight falls off, we can be proud of moving further down in the global obesity rankings.

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