I was listening to a programme on French radio about whether the government should intervene to prohibit investigation related to genetically modified food when I came across this piece about obesity in the US. Food and the way we eat it seem to constitute an important part of our cultural identity. Do we have a distinctive European attitude to food, or are the North European cultures more like the US, and the Southern Europeans in a class of their own?
On the other hand when I accepted the idea of Americans as ‘risk takers’, it wasn’t exactly the risk of being a cigarette-smoking, six-pack-drinking, couch potatoe that I had in mind. But then again maybe we are not so different, since most of the Parisians I get to speak to these days go on less about ‘je t’aime, moi non plus’ and more about ‘boulot, metro et bobo’.
The U.S. government has announced the results of the nation’s latest checkup, and there’s both a silver lining and a cloud. First, the good news: Americans are living longer than they ever have before and the disparity between blacks and whites is narrowing. Now, the bad news: We’re living longer with chronic diseases like diabetes. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of Americans diagnosed with this disease shot up 27 percent. These are just some of the statistics from the report Health, United States, 2003, an annual summary of the nation’s health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services………….
In 2001, average life expectancy hit an all-time high of 77.2 years, adding two years since 1990. Women’s life expectancy increased one year to 79.8 years, while men’s increased two years to 74.4 years………
And the nation is getting fatter. Almost one in three (31 percent) of the population is now obese, double the rate in 1976-1980. Two-thirds of adults aged 20 to 74 were overweight or obese in 1999-2000.
Among children, the prevalence of those overweight more than doubled, from 7 to 15 percent, between 1976-1980 and 1999-2000. Among adolescents, the rate more than tripled, from 5 to 16 percent.
Americans also proved themselves to be sedentary: 38 percent of female high school students and 24 percent of male students did not do the recommended amounts of exercise in 2001. Twelve percent of adult women and 7 percent of men over 18 were inactive during their usual daily activity. The problem got worse as people got older. Nearly one fifth of men 65 and over and more than one-quarter of women 65 and over were inactive.
Not surprisingly, all of this presages the skyrocketing diabetes rate. In 2002, 6.5 percent of American adults were diagnosed with diabetes, versus 5.1 percent in 1997. The health care associated with the disease has also increased.
“One in five hospitalizations now has a diagnosis of diabetes associated with it,” Bernstein says. “It’s notable, given that hospitalization many times indicates that the proper ambulatory care wasn’t provided.”
“People don’t seem to be getting the message about diet and exercise as much as we had hoped they would,” Bernstein adds. “As people get older and have the opportunity to live longer and take advantage of all the great new innovations in medical care, they also have to take into account that they’re responsible for some aspect of their own health care.”