More bad news today from the CDC. It's no surprise that the obesity rate continues to rise in the U.S. The recent news focused on the 1% increase in obesity over the last two years. It doesn't sound like much but this is equivalent to a total of 72 million obese adults in the U.S. (with a BMI above 30). There are nine states in which 30% of the population is obese. (see stats here)
Now that we are crystal clear that there is a problem and there are statistics to prove it, let's move onto phase two--doing something about it.
Believe me, I am well aware of what a huge task this is and that it will require multi-dimensional interventions. It means tackling many things in our world--fast food, exercise, school lunches, getting rid of fad diets, quality nutrition education, and making healthy food affordable etc.
Before we dive in, perhaps we should start with changing the way we talk about the issue at hand. Take a moment and read some of the articles that reported on the new information from the CDC. What is your initial gut reaction? Pretty depressing, isn't it? Do you feel a sense of hopelessness? Consider why you feel this way.
Could the news be unintentionally creating a "self fulfilling prophecy?'' In other words, the more we hear about what an overwhelming problem obesity is, the more people may continue to act in ways that lead them toward overeating because they feel "what's the point, it's impossible anyway." A self fulfilling prophecy isn't the cause of obesity, but it may help to maintain it.
Also consider the language we use to talk about obesity. The "war" on obesity. The "epidemic" of obesity. It's like the saying, "what you resist, persists." If we are waging a "battle" against obesity, it is likely that the resistance is somewhat leading to the maintenance of the problem. Also, many of the words in the articles imply shame, blame and guilt. When people feel judged or criticized, they avoid--maybe even skipping over the article altogether for this reason.
I'm not saying that we should downplay the intensity of the problem or deceive people about the magnitude of the consequences. Obesity has devastating health effects, reduces life span/quality of life and will drain the economy. We need to know the facts. But, perhaps we need a better balance. It's also being mindful of presenting in the news a hopefulness and reporting as successes as well. There are programs that do work.
Here is a proposal. How about we focus on using more neutral or encouraging language? Perhaps utilize the power of optimistic language to inspire and challenge people to think of creative solutions rather than using language to scare and perpetuate shame.
Because, we can do it--we can overcome mindless overeating and weight issues. It is possible. See, isn't that a refreshing change...
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health and Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV Show. Visit Albers online at www.eatingmindfully.com
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