Opinion

Modern lifestyle damages our health

Looking back over the last 20 years at global food and health trends it is easy to see why the general health level of Australians is falling.

Obesity rates are at an all-time high, having more than doubled over the past two decades. It used to be that more men were overweight than women (67% compared to 52%), but it seems now the tides have changed.

Sadly obesity is now more common among women (22%) than men (18%).

The fact of the matter is it's not just as a nation we are getting fatter, but our overall health is also deteriorating.

So what has changed so dramatically in the last 20 years compared to the rest of history that we now have such prominent issues as obesity and accelerated numbers of degenerative diseases?

The last two decades have seen dramatic changes in what we eat. We are now making some obvious choices to reduce the amount of saturated fats in our diets - we eat less red meat and whole-fat dairy. Government advertising suggesting we eat more fruit and vegetables seems to be working as we now eat more fruit and vegetables.

The super-size me promotions are everywhere, constantly encouraging us to overeat. As a nation we now eat out more than ever before, causing any kind of portion control to just leap out of the window. Most restaurant servings these days could feed a small family in a third-world country for a whole day. Your stomach is only as big as your fist so shoving a foot-long Subway into your mouth is a classic case of overeating and we all do this way too regularly.

In the last two decades we also eat more processed foods. Who has the time to stand around the kitchen cooking sauces from scratch to go over a dish that will slow-cook in the oven for hours on end?

Processed food is a fast and convenient way to cook at home and when you're on the road. The trouble is these foods have been shown to lose between 20-80% of their nutritional content depending on the food and the type of processing.

With this in mind it's easy to understand why the government feels it necessary to fortify foods with known nutrients lost in processing such as fibre, folic acid and selenium. It's an odd concept really - putting back in what they have deliberately taken out.

What we eat is largely dictated to us via social mediums like targeted ad campaigns and products. Special emphasis is now placed on new products that are lower in fat and calories, but also include foods with other health benefits like reduced levels of cholesterol, salt and sugar as well as increased amounts of fibre and calcium.

Interestingly the increased promotion of lower-calorie, healthier foods has not translated into positive trends in the reduction of body weight.

There has been much focus on the thinking that inactive forms of entertainment, such as watching TV and surfing the net at home, are contributing to the current obesity epidemic.

Before 1990 most homes had a television set, with only 35% of households having multiple televisions. These days three-quarters of the nation's households have multiple TVs.

Advancements in technology are certainly having their impact on us. Videocassette recorders, DVD players, cable television, home computers and let's not forget the latest iPad craze are all technologies that have become widely available to the general population only in the last two decades.

Several studies have now shown that the number of hours of television viewing per week is associated with higher body weights in children and adults. The link here is believed to be not only doing less physical activity but that more people now eat too much while they are watching TV.

We all know it's not just what we eat that contributes to obesity and our health - how active we are also plays a very important role.

The message of doing at least 30 minutes of "physical activity" at least three to five times per week is nothing new. It's a consistent message that has been around longer than the last two decades.

The increase in health club numbers over the last two decades doesn't seem to have made much of an indent on increasing our physical activity levels.

Our incidental exercise has also dropped with the increased accessibility to public transport and the like.

If the changes we have witnessed over the last 20 years are anything to go by, the future of our nation's health looks scary at best. My advice to you is to be conscious of what you eat and how regularly you move.

Create yourself a sound nutritional base for well-being. Following these principles (left) will help you on the right path.

"Most restaurant servings these days could feed a small family in a third-world country for a whole day."

Topics:  michelle peden


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