Women's Health: Taking Care

What our mothers couldn’t tell us . . . and our daughters need to know.

 

(page 4 of 5)

OBESITY

We have become a super-sized society—and this doesn’t bode well for our daughters. While obesity is not a new disease, its rates have increased to epidemic levels in the U.S. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for a wide range of diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. This worries Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

“The problem is that our world is very different now than it was 40 years ago,” says Schwartz. “Back then we had fewer food choices. There were a few brands of cereal targeted to kids, but the choices were minimal. Most nights families ate dinner—often made by mom—at home.”

As society has changed, so has the food environment. More women are working, so demands at home and in the workplace have multiplied. Take-out is king and restaurants are serving oversized portions. Add to that a barrage of fast-food products, snacks, candy and soft drinks marketed to kids, and it’s no wonder childhood obesity is off the charts—in fact, it’s more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the CDC.

Although women are knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition, it is still challenging to eat right. “It’s a sad commentary on our society that we need so many labels to tell us what to eat,” says Schwartz.

“The truth is that even a trained dietitian can’t figure it out. There’s a very poor relationship between what we know and what we do,” she says. If bad food choices are out there, we’ll eat them; it’s as simple as that. For this reason, the Rudd Center supports legislation that limits children’s access to soft drinks and snacks. “We’re very hopeful, because this is an issue that the First Lady cares about,” says Schwartz. “In the end, environment will always trump knowledge.”

Until we see a radical improvement in the commercial food landscape, “the best solution for a woman battling obesity, or striving to provide healthy meals for her family, is to pay less attention to labels and more attention to eating foods that are natural, in portions that are reasonable,” says Schwartz.

There’s no question that overeating is often linked to emotional stress, and counseling can help women cope with those triggers, but baby steps are better than no steps at all. While losing a lot of weight and keeping it off is possible, it’s not easy, she says. It may seem too good to be true, but it works. Says Schwartz: “What I recommend is working on behaviors of losing weight. Increase your awareness of what you eat . . . improve your diet, be more physically active. And just keep building on that.”

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