Americans are vying for the title “Heaviest People on Earth.” We’ve developed major league eating habits. We’re the Fast-Food kings. We, and the restaurants that cater us, are pros at “portion distortion”—some of the cups sold by food chains and gas stations are so big they won’t fit in standard cup-holders.
We eat often, eat big, and chow down. We’re spending more on not-so-healthy foods and we’re gaining weight—lots of weight. And now we’re being warned that obesity ranks as a growing problem (no pun intended) among the nation’s children.
Obesity is now the fastest-growing disease in America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us the United States ranks #2 in the world behind Mexico for prevalence of obesity. In 1962, about 13% of the American adult population was considered obese. Today it’s 35.7%. Trust for America’s Health suggests that if obesity rates continue on current trajectories, by 2030, the United States obesity rate will exceed 44%.
US healthcare costs are skyrocketing with some 10% annually due to obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate medical costs associated with obesity range from $147 billion to $210 billion, and an obese person incurs $1,500 more in medical costs per year than a person of normal weight. An obese beneficiary costs Medicare $600 more per year than a person of normal weight. Healthcare costs related to obesity now exceed those stemming from smoking or problem drinking.
The National Institutes of Health estimate increases in childhood obesity will cost families, businesses, and governments $100 billion per year in future healthcare costs. Meanwhile studies suggest 70% of overweight and obese children become overweight and obese adults.
There are also the “hidden costs” of obesity: missed workdays (“absenteeism”), lower productivity (“presenteeism”), extra sick days and trips to the doctor, higher medical care costs, longer more costly injury recovery periods, increased emotional stress or psychological ailments, being overlooked for promotion, suffering social stigmas, etc.
A 2010 study suggested obesity is now costing American companies $73.1 billion. But there’s more. Commuter trains are adding cars with seats that can carry 400 pound passengers, hospitals are widening doors, strengthening gurneys, acquiring plus-size wheelchairs, and installing floor rather than wall-mounted toilets. Stadiums are widening seats.
The Journal for Scientific Study of Religion recently claimed American Christians, as a category, are more overweight than any other religious group. There are now Christian weight-loss programs like Bod4God, Body and Soul Fitness, Faithful Workouts, First Place 4 Health, Take Back Your Temple, The Eden Diet, Victory Steps, Weigh Down Ministries, and many more.
Day By Day, Pound For Pound
People eat because they’re hungry and must eat to survive.
We also eat over 10 billion donuts per year. I’m not sure that’s about hunger or survival.
People eat to counteract boredom, as a lack of self-control, to combat stress or bury depression, and for other emotional reasons. And lest we forget, people eat for enjoyment, of the cuisine, the relaxation, and the fellowship, all good things.
I like to eat as much as the next person. Who doesn’t?
There is nothing wrong with eating. God fashioned omnivorous and carnivorous human beings. In the book of Genesis God said, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (9:3). God gave us the fruits of his creation and commanded us to develop them for our use and his glory. Throughout history, as God intended, people have eaten not just for subsistence, like an animal, but as a key element in the human experience. Most of us like to eat with someone, which is as God intended.
But as I’ve gotten older, dieting has become a part of my lifestyle, whether I want it to be or not. A combination of abundance, junk food, and sedentary occupations makes it easy for most of us to overeat. We live to eat rather than eat to live. I’ve been one of them, “growing” in my 40s (my age and my waistline), growing more in my 50s, and now 60. In between, downsizing to pants and belts to which I return like long-lost friends. This is Yo-Yo weight management. Not the best method.
There’s no 11th Commandment saying, “Thou shalt not eat French Fries,” much less one saying, “Thou shalt eat only for survival.”
God says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). First matter of importance is for whom we eat, not how, how much, what, when, or even why. Eating, like everything else in our lives, is about relationship with God: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
We’re given Christian liberty to choose what and how much we eat: "Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). But we’re reminded to be stewards of our wellbeing: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We’re enjoined not to make either food (Eat, Drink, and Be Merry) or vanity (Beauty is fleeting) an idol, not to be mastered (addicted to, controlled by) anything beyond the Spirit of God.
In Proverbs, God says, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor” (23:20-21). Moderation is always God’s command regarding anything that’s not in itself intrinsically evil. We get ourselves into trouble every time our participation in anything is motivated by self-indulgence.
That’s a problem for our culture, which could be described as given to excess—unbridled debt and deficits, gambling, celebrity worship, materialism, narcissism, chasing the fountain of youth. We want it all, including the ability to eat whatever we want, as much as we want, without consequences.
Burn Calories, Not Gas
Another “hidden cost” of obesity: cars are consuming 1 billion gallons of gasoline more per year than 1960 when passengers weighed less. This is money, and energy, literally blown out the exhaust pipe.
But Trust for America’s Health found that if states could reduce the average body mass index of residents by 5% by 2030, every state could help thousands/millions of people avoid obesity-related diseases, while saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs. That’s just a few pounds per person.
Apparently we’re trying. In 2013, the nation’s most often cited New Year’s Resolution aimed at weight loss. According to the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 45 percent of Americans make resolutions each year. But only 8% stay with their resolution long enough to be successful.
Even minimal or modest weight loss is a good thing. Lose just 5% of total body weight and improve blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars, more. Lose weight = Gain health.
Yet it’s not just eating. It’s eating and exercise.
But the real key to weight management is more a matter of what is inside a person than what goes inside a person (Matthew 15:11).
Eat Wise, Drop Size
Eating is a divine gift. When we eat according to God’s standards, we reap bounty. When we eat according to selfish desires, we reap fat cells that carry with them their own consequences.
Try this, think of eating as an act of worship and see how this thought changes your approach.