Despite increased awareness about the benefits of health and fitness, Americans still have poor diets and the obesity rate continues to rise. According to a 2008 survey by the Trust For America’s Health, obesity rates increased significantly in 37 states since last year, and declined only in the District of Columbia.
What’s going wrong? A recent research report by the USDA points to, well, modern life as the culprit.
The report presents a “consumer demand model” which shows how long-term health goals and external factors can drive a person’s food choices. Turns out, knowledge is nothing compared to “visceral factors” like work and stress which contribute to more meals away from home, more time between meals, and in the end, more calories. Here are some of the key findings:
- Individuals are more likely to consume more calories when they extend the time between meals or consume more of their food away from home. For example, going 5 hours between meals instead of 4 adds about 52 calories for someone on a diet of 2,000 calories per day.
- Unsurprisingly, the location at which someone eats affects what and how much is consumed. People are estimated to cosume about 107 more calories when eating foods from a restaurant compared with foods prepared at home.
- People who work more hours are also more influenced by the interval between meals. At 4 hours between meals, an individual who works 40 hours a week is estimated to eat about 20 percent more calories than someone who is not employed. At 8 hours between meals, the calorie discrepancy jumps to nearly 40 percent.
There are no huge surprises here, but it serves to illustrate the challenge of modern life to anyone wanting to establish healthy habits. Work is a real problem. The obesity issue seems to reflect a need for a national shift in attitude away from work and consumption and more towards, well, fun. Why is life so stressful? Why do we have such a problem taking lunch breaks? Stopping for a snack? Packing lunch instead of eating out? Finding time to take a walk?
In my last job at a big bank, I worked with a bunch of analysts who were constantly overworked, yet unwilling to push back on their duties. One girl spoke to me about her former running habits, and how she hasn’t put on her running shoes in months and it makes her so sad, but “I must finish this report!” she said as she settled into her screen with a tray of take-away sushi, not to leave the office until 10pm.
I suppose my inability to accept tasks when I knew they would cause me to work overtime is one of the reasons I no longer work at a bank. One of my goals is to be healthy in body AND mind, and since quitting the bank and working for myself, I’ve never been happier or healthier. And when I think about the rest of the fitness bloggers I know, many of them work at home or own their own businesses – I wonder if their fitness success is connected with this kind of freedom?
Unfortunately, most of us can’t just up and quit our jobs. So then what? Who out there works the 9-5 but manages (or at least tries to manage) to work fitness into the mix? I bet there’s a lot to learn from people who manage to keep a job without turning into a stress-ball. If you’re out there, let us know how you do it!
Is Dietary Knowledge Enough? Hunger, Stress, and Other Roadblocks to Healthy Eating [thanks Rory!]