Over the past few weeks, experts met to discuss the “Weight of the Nation” at a conference in Washington, and HBO ran a series by the same name. Why all the attention? Because national statistics show the rates for overweight and obesity among adults and children are simply too high.
As a mom and concerned citizen, I want not only the best for my son’s future but for his generation, my generation and generations to come. I want to see everyone be active, healthy and smart about lifestyle choices.
If we are really honest with ourselves, we know that no one group or sector can solve this problem alone and searching for a silver bullet that miraculously stops obesity is just not realistic. Targeting scapegoats or pointing fingers is simply a waste of energy. Instead, we should apply our energy to solutions that have been shown to work.
I have been working on the frontline of this issue for nearly two decades, and I’m quite certain of a few things. First, our current situation reflects a combination of how we eat and the ever-increasing amount of time we spend not moving. Second, we need to look at this problem holistically with focus on our communities. And third, we need to work with, and across, all sectors to develop and execute workable, comprehensive solutions.
For many Americans, the environment that surrounds them is not conducive to achieving active healthy lifestyles. A recent study by Church et al. (2011) concluded that in the last 50 years there has been a progressive decrease in the percent of men and women employed in occupations requiring at least moderate intensity physical activity. The resulting drops in occupation-related daily energy expenditure “accounts for a large portion of the observed increase in mean U.S. weight over the last five decades.” Too many Americans spend their days sitting at desks, working at computers and watching TV.
Get off the couch
The loss of physical education in our schools is both a travesty and a tragedy. Being “mesmerized with inactivity” is not good for our children’s physical and mental health — not to mention their grades.
And when we talk about diet, telling people that they have to give up things they love usually fails. Directives such as “avoid,” “eliminate,” or “stop” don’t change behaviors. Let’s focus on the “how,” “how much” and “how often” when giving the public dietary advice.
Coca-Cola clearly has a role to play in developing product solutions. Helping people manage their calories isn’t a new idea to us. In 1963, we launched low-calorie Tab. And today, the total number of diet and light drink brands we sell in the United States is more than 150.
But it’s not just about options — it’s also about information. In 2009 we added calorie amounts on the front of nearly all of our packages to make it easier for people to choose beverages that are right for them.
What people eat and drink is only part of the weight management equation. As a society we must support programs that promote exercise. National leaders such as Michelle Obama set the right example, tapping celebrities like Beyoncé to remind children that activities such as dance can be just as entertaining as a video game. Recess and physical education must be maintained and increased in schools. These programs are critical to instilling an enjoyment of exercise that they will carry through the rest of their lives.
Having an active, healthy and happy population is at the heart of our collective best interest and is not an impossible goal.
Rather than continuing to advance ideologies that haven’t worked, let’s tap into our nation’s brilliance and energy to build communities that encourage physical activity and support programs that motivate sensible, balanced eating and other healthy behaviors.
Rhona S. Applebaum is vice president and chief scientific and regulatory officer at The Coca-Cola Co. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.