America's Greatest Threat
What if I told you that there is a killer responsible for over 600,000 Americans deaths, each year? And, what if I said this killer is projected to kill even more Americans in the future?
The natural tendency is to demand action to stop this killer in its tracks and come up with a solution to save lives, immediately; however, for decades, this problem has been swept under the rug and ignored.
With the recent tragedy in Orlando, some politicians may have you convinced that terrorism is the reason that so many Americans are dying, but they are wrong. Across the aisle, politicians on the other side of the spectrum may have you convinced that guns are at the heart of all of these deaths, but they, too, are wrong. While the threat of terrorism should not be completely dismissed, it is important to know that fewer than 200 Americans have died from terrorist attacks in the last 12 years (https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_AmericanTerrorismDeaths_FactSheet_Oct2015.pdf). Equally important is the number of gun-related deaths in this country, which averages around 33,000 per year (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/injury.htm); however, that number, by itself, is a bit misleading because it gives the impression that those deaths are a result of homicides. In fact, of the approximately 33,000 dead, about 21,000 come from self-inflicted suicides, whereas roughly 11,000 are homicidal deaths, and the rest come from other reasons, such as accidental discharges.
Again, this is not to say that terrorism and firearms are not important issues that demand the attention from the public, but they pale in comparison to the number one killer—heart disease. Being overweight, one of the major risk factors contributing to heart disease, has reached its highest point in history with 68.8% of the American population being considered, and as much as 34.7% of the entire population being obese (http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx). When looking at racial and socioeconomic groups, for African-Americans and Hispanic populations, particularly those with low income, the prevalence of being overweight or obese is even greater. Additionally, one of the saddest facts, in my opinion, is the growing number of children as overweight or obese, at about 31.8%.
These statistics are an inconvenient truth for many reasons. When finances are not readily available, some opt for the most affordable option, while ignoring the implications on their health that these foods may bring about. And then, when you factor in the “food desert” problem that is prevalent in poor, urban areas, the option to purchase healthy foods is not available. Also, many would agree that the convenience to pull into a drive thru, after a long day of work, is more appealing than cooking and cleaning up, afterwards.
However, this problem is not only related to poor dietary choices, but, also, a lack of physical activity. The average American spends about 3 hours per day watching TV, and usually more on the weekend. By dedicating at least 30 minutes a day to exercising, coupled with healthy eating habits, the risk of heart disease can be reduced by over 50%. While this may not result in looking like Mr. Olympia or like a Victoria’s Secret model in a couple weeks, it will strengthen your heart and drastically improve your health.
So, what can be done? For starters, everything you choose to eat or do is your responsibility. Deciding whether to pull into the Jack in the Box drive-thru or going straight home to prepare a healthy meal, is completely voluntary. Additionally, choosing to munch on chips and candy versus fruit and almonds, at work, is another contributor to overall health. By maintaining a commitment to healthy choices, both dietary and activity-wise, one can enjoy improved health benefits.
As an American citizen, if you are one who is living in a “food desert”, you must remember that elected officials, such as your city councilpersons and mayor, are your representatives and that they work for you and your community. Establish regular contact with them and involve your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors, and demand action; remember, their job security is at the hands of the voters.
Public health is as much of a national issue as it is a personal issue or community issue. In fact, over $3 trillion is spent each year on healthcare; while longer lifespans are a major contributor, increased health complications, resulting poor lifestyle choices, remain as the biggest factor. While swapping eating apples, instead of Cheetos, is not as sexy as banning assault rifles or putting an end to ISIS, but it has the potential of saving thousands of American lives. From the micro to the macro scale, health choices affect us all.