One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter, is pull up a chair at a city cafe, order a double espresso with pouring cream and simply people watch for a few hours. In fact, people watching is a pastime that becomes more interesting every year, as cities become ever more populated, fashions become louder and the need to do something fun but relaxing becomes ever direr.
I’ve made it a habit to enjoy a solid people watching session in every city I visit but, let me tell you…people watching in a US city reveals a few disturbing facts. One of them is the fact that people are depressed, stressed and on edge. The other worrying fact is that…people are overweight! Pull up a chair at a cafe on any busy shopping strip in the US and it won’t take you long to notice the abundance of overweight people walking by, people edging toward obese and many, very many, well within its deadly borders.
What makes people watching such a fun pastime to do as a tourist is the secrets it reveals about a country or city’s culture. Do the locals smile as they pass one another? Is this a nation of diet-conscious athletes? Is the general man on the street in a rush to go about his business? Does he look stressed? Is he amicable? In America, it’s evident that our culture is a culture of chronic overeaters, always in a rush to get the doing done, looking down and ploughing through in a rush to feed themselves during lunch hour but not keen on interpersonal contact. Why does it look as if something is troubling them?
- What Is Obesity exactly and is there a line drawn between overweight and obese?
- What do obesity stats tell us?
- Why are so many people obese, especially in our beautiful homeland of the US?
- What can we do to make a change?
These are all questions which, luckily, we have answers to…read on to find out more.
First up, what is BMI?
BMI stands for Body Mass Index, and ideal BMI is the ideal weight you should maintain to stay physically (and it follows, mentally) healthy, given your specific height. Of course, the science is not exact, since some people actually have denser bones than others but it’s a good reference point at which to start. Percentage BMI above the average is what physicians use to determine how overweight or obese a person is.
What is Obesity?
A little bit of fat is healthy, it acts as a reserve store in times of drought and insulates the bones when the weather turns chilly. However, there is a certain percentage of fat, 20% above average BMI to be exact, above which your skeletal structure, organs, tissues and nervous system begin to take strain, because they were simply not designed to take on that much weight, that much work, that much fat.
Anything below that obese level, but still above perfect BMI, is considered overweight.
People become overweight and consequently obese…they gain weight, in other words, when their caloric intake is not balanced and nullified by their caloric output or exercise routine. Think of sitting in the office all day, think of sitting in front of the TV all night.
Realize that your brain can burn a maximum of maybe 250 calories a day from mental processes, yet you’re probably eating in excess of 2500 calories a day, and maybe now you’ll be a little closer to understanding why you’re gaining weight or why you are already overweight. People were not made to sit all day. Much less, to sit and eat all day.
Because obesity is a life-threatening condition that can lead to debilitating and fatal conditions of the heart, cardiovascular, nervous, psychiatric, muscular and skeletal system…obesity ticks all the necessary boxes for labeling as a DISEASE. Obesity is a life-threatening disease which, like HIV and AIDS, drastically increases your likelihood of contracting a myriad other possibly fatal diseases!
Persons who are more than 100 lb. overweight are considered by doctors to be morbidly obese and this, for all intents and purposes can be likened to the progression of HIV to full-blown AIDS, in health terms.
How about a few interesting (and frightening) statistics?
- If you think that most folks in the US are chubby but not obese, think again. There are, disturbingly, more obese people in the US than there are just plain overweight people.
- Over 100 million people in America are obese in 2018.
- A tragic 40 % of adults in the United States are obese. A more direct way to put this statement is, Almost half of America is killing themselves by a means which is, in fact, entirely preventable.
- In 2018, an unprecedented percentage of American citizens between the ages of 20 and 40 are claiming disability as a result of the epidemic of morbid obesity.
- A heart wrenching 20% of children in the United States are obese as a direct result of lifestyle habits for which only their (often equally obese) parents can be to blame.
- Depending on your weight, obesity will increase your risk of premature death by anything from 15 to over 100%.
- The World Health Organization report indicates that from 1975 to to-date, worldwide obesity has almost tripled. In 2016, over 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and above were overweight. Out of these, 650 million adults were obese.
- 36% of the adults globally were overweight in 2016 and out of these, 13% were obese. The largest percentage of the global population lives in countries where more people are killed by being obese and overweight than by most other causes.
- Globally, 41 million children aged below 5 years were obese or overweight as of 2016. More than 340 million adolescents and children aged between 5 and 19 years were obese or overweight in 2016.
- A study has shown that since the beginning of the 1990s, economic globalization among the developing nations has led to changes in food choices and dietary patterns. This study has further shown that there has been a decrease in physical activity over the years. Globally, this accounts for 6% of the associated deaths, and it is attributed to better food choices and low energy expenditure levels.
I realize these statistics are a bitter pill to swallow…but we must become aware if we are to prevail. We must become aware of what we are doing to ourselves and our children.
The Vicious Cycle Of Sitting and the Downhill fast-track To Obesity
After a night’s sleep, we wake at 6 AM…eat breakfast, then hop in the car or walk down to the subway, either to sit for an hour in traffic, our hearts pumping as the stress sets in or alternatively, we sit in the train, hearts pumping as we attempt to avoid all contact with fellow passengers..we’ve got enough problems, the last thing we need is more..
Once at work, it’s 8 hours, 9 hours, ten hours of sitting, working stressing, with some rushed cake gobbling at tea time and a stacked lunch from the canteen. After work, we’re exhausted from the day’s build-up of computers that don’t seem to work fast enough, sales that fell through, articles we didn’t finish and people-politics. We are officially pooped, despite the unheeded and massive caloric intake during our tea or coffee breaks and lunch hour.
Once we’re home, we justify the ordering of fast meals, devoid of favorable nutritional value, on the back of “it’s been a long day!” We want nothing more than to sit in front of the TV or computer, remote or mouse in hand, ready for a good 6-8 hours of channel flicking and Netflix browsing.
We dream of relief from the stresses of life and promise to take up healthier practices but the years pile up as we continue to sit and sit, eat and eat.
While we sit, day in day out, night in and night out, our muscles atrophy and as they do, our metabolic rates drop. While a girl in her 20’s might think her high metabolism means that she’ll always be slender, even without exercise, all her life, the tragic truth of the matter is that sitting is a vicious cycle and the older she gets, the more she sits, the slower her metabolic rate gets and consequently, the quicker she picks up weight until every bite she takes becomes fat, because her metabolism is just not fast enough to process it out.
Studies have shown that 70% of desk chair bound employees to fail to meet the recommended daily activity level necessary for them to avoid the vicious sitting cycle of decreasing metabolic rate and possible, consequent obesity.
Now, you might be saying, in response, “but I don’t partake of sweet treats and crisps, I have fruit instead and eat only a minimal lunch.” That is not the point, because sitting alone, does a lot more damage than merely putting you at extreme risk of obesity.
Let’s take a closer look at the effects of excessive sitting over time.
The Effects Of Sitting Disease:
Because the disease is defined as a condition or behavior which put’s your physical or mental health at risk, doctors are now beginning to refer to the common practice of long periods of sitting as a full-blown disease, namely: sitting disease.
You may consider sitting to be the comfortable thing to do, a better way to focus your mind or even a sheer necessity but you would be completely wrong. Take into consideration the fact that man evolved from a primate who walked and ran using hands and feet into one that walks upright, purely out of his need to see over things, stay on the move, hunt and gather and use his hands and arms for better stuff than walking on.
Now, having gained the exceptional quality among animals through millennia of natural selection, technological advances and the advent of a culture that favors convenience above physical and mental health, we sit…not making use of the standing-faculty that took evolution millennia to accomplish.
Our organs, cardiovascular, nervous and muscular systems took millennia to adjust during our slow skeletal evolution into the upright stance and are not equipped, therefore, to deal with the effects of extended sitting and athletic near-dormancy.
- Even if you do not become obese, the combined effects of sitting more than 8 hours a day match, in risk levels, those of obesity and smoking. In other words, sitting disease is no laughing matter.
- In fact, studies have shown that a single hour of sitting could cut twice as much time off your life as smoking a single cigarette. While a cigarette takes 11 minutes, on average, off your life, sitting for an hour may take up to 22 minutes off.
- Some of the symptoms of excessive sitting are inordinately high levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and glucose…forerunners of obesity and type II diabetes.
- Elevated anxiety levels are another side effect and this is true for both children and adults.
- The elevated likelihood of a variety of health issues raises anxiety levels, as does the onset of the various conditions themselves, all of this can lead to severe, clinical depression, which only leads to even more sedentary practices and excessive eating of the wrong foods.
- Sitting increases your blood pressure and hinders circulation, which has a snowball effect, the less circulation there is the more your veins suffer, resulting in varicose veins and other, risky issues.
- People who sit excessively are prone to blood clots and aneurysms, not to mention deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary clotting.
- People who sit too much are more at risk of developing cancer, as a result of combined effects and other conditions, the most common types are colon and breast cancers for sitters.
- Sitting is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, even without the added effect of obesity, which will basically raise that risk through the roof.
- Chronic back pain is one of the leading disability claim catalysts on the planet, it is also one of the surest side effects of extended, all day sitting. This condition, amongst other severe, athletic ailments, is one of the most common symptoms of all day sitting, over time. Of course, as with so many of the other side effects, it only exacerbates the problem by leading to ever more sitting, less activity and higher fat storage factors.
It’s important to remember that while all of the above are effects of sitting alone, they are also effects of obesity and therefore because sitting so greatly increases your risk of becoming obese, all of these risks are effectively doubled in people who sit and are obese…this is the vicious cycle of sitting.
So…How Big Is This Problem, Really?
It’s big, let me reiterate…naturally, humans are made to move or engage in different forms of manual labor every day. Moderate and vigorous physical activity plays a preventative role in conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancers and high blood pressure.
Nevertheless, there has been a shift from physically demanding lifestyles to lifestyles that have reduced physical challenges. This is the technological revolution…more straightly put, the CONVENIENCE revolution. This shift has occurred suddenly within a fraction of the human existence, basically over the past 50 years.
Societal indicators of energy expenditure reduction and a sedentary behavior increase by humans during the past decades communicate some alarming facts about average life expectancy in the future. Thus, the convenience revolution has over a period of 50 years (out of an evolutionary period of hundreds of thousands) taken humans from a state of active hunter-gatherer level physical activity to near zero physical activity as lifestyle sitters. Our ability to treat disease has improved due to advances and yet our life expectancies are still decreasing.
In actual, startling fact, 85% of all Americans now spend more than 8 hours a day sitting at work and the vast majority of those people go home, simply to continue sitting. Every one of these people is at massively increased risk of obesity and premature death.
But What Can Be Done?
The last thing we’re telling you to do is get up, quit your job and take to the Alaskan wilds with a bow and arrow, flint and pocket knife. Nor are we telling you to go home, get a cow to milk in the mornings and a vegetable patch to spend your weekends tending to, although that may not be too bad an idea and whole foods are definitely a lifestyle choice worth writing home positively about!
Many of us have found career freedom as a result of a said technological revolution, and the internet has become a source of business enterprise that for many of us, was heretofore beyond our wildest economic hopes. We are making money on the internet! So, instead of burning your router and buying a land patch in the Aussie outback…get yourself a standing desk.
More and more companies are incorporating the sitting/standing desk into employee work environments and, to their delight, discovering the massive positive impact that a desk which allows workers to either sit at a high stool or stand next to it while working, has on office productivity, innovation and creativity. Oh, not to mention staff fitness levels and general office mood…
You might not have even heard of standing desks before but market research indicates that by 2025, the standing desk market will reach the $2.8 billion dollar figure. Large companies like Google and Apple Inc. for example, who put funds into developing worker-contentment strategies, realize the importance of elevating office fitness levels and encouraging a healthier lifestyle among staffers.
This, for these forward-thinking companies, results in awareness programs that open worker’s eyes to the detrimental effects of a sedentary job, combined with decadent, carb-heavy canteen menus. The result, standing desks are being incorporated everywhere possible and canteens are now focusing on balanced, nutritional meals that still taste amazing.
Now, with the healthcare and disability burden of in excess of $230 billion, that obesity and sitting disease place on the economy each year, it makes sense that the standing/sitting desk route, combined with office-gyms and a healthy canteen menu, as well as office team building programs, to raise morale, shouldn’t be too much to ask of modern employers.
I started this article off mentioning my penchant for curbside people watching but given the fact that I like my pouring cream so much…I think next time I might order my espresso to go or stand at the window bar instead.
As for you, my friend, have a think…and make a change.