Living in an era of technological advances was supposed to make living healthy easier. Information can be found instantly from anywhere. Devices like smartphones, Fitbits, and Apple Watches are ubiquitous and designed to help us live healthier lives.
Young people, however, are struggling to keep healthy habits. Over the past decade, the percentage of overweight teens has more than doubled. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, there are approximately 12.5 million overweight children in the United States. The number continues to grow day by day causing many health experts to believe there is an epidemic.
Health experts are desperately seeking potential solutions. Although genetics play a role in a person’s health, it is not the only factor. Most people consume significantly more calories than they are burning daily. This is in part because fast food consumption has been steadily rising. “On any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6 % or approximately 84.8 million adults consume fast food,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The situation only gets worse when it comes to young people and those who are economically disadvantaged. Fast food is easily accessible and cheap. Many times due to access or economic issues, kids have no other choice than to eat fast food. Moreover, the sugar and sodium content in highly processed food creates a sort of physical dependency. Food rich in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber produces a sugar rush that stimulates the production of insulin, the hormone that manages sugar. This sugar is quickly burned but insulin stays in the system for hours and produces sugar cravings and hunger that leads to further consumption of sugar and a vicious cycle leading to obesity. Young Americans intake 16.9 % of their calories from fast food. College students eat out an average of 5.8 times a week, which is more than double the amount that showed risk for chronic disease. Some claim that teens should order healthier options from the menu, but even that proves to be a challenge. In many cases, the so-called “healthy” options are full of fat, sugar, and calories. After all, for restaurants, it is a good business model.
However, it is not a good business model for individuals and for the country as a whole. Individuals who eat unhealthily and are overweight are significantly more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Teenagers and young adults are distracted with so many competing demands, that health is usually placed in the backseat until it is too late to prevent a disease. That means we need to make a conscious effort and commitment to being healthy. We should leverage the technology we have to help us create a healthier lifestyle that is feasible. Find dietary and physical activity habits that make you feel your best. For some people, this could mean a balanced diet that avoids processed foods and for others a more demanding regimen such as intermittent fasting, plant-based, keto or paleo diets. Scientists are discovering that dieting is not one size fits all. The most important rule of thumb is to eat more vegetables, fruits and healthy fats like those found in salmon or avocados, and to reduce intake of sugar, saturated animal fats and processed foods.
In general, we must understand that there are many industries making billions of dollars from influencing our behaviors regarding food, alcohol, exercise, vaping and more. We have the tools to find information on what is really best for us and to not fall prey to their schemes.