the superpower that’s eating itself to death
Why do Americans spend less time on foot than those living in any other industrialized nation? To answer the question, someone wrote a fully fledged book and another author wrote a four part series for Slate in one of the most long-winded ways to describe a simple problem that I’ve seen since college. Allow me to spare you the thousand words and get straight to the picture. Americans walk half as much as other citizens of wealthy, post-industrial countries because their cities are built for cars and their waistlines are suffering as a result.
In fact, we can include the issue of how little Americans walk in the confluence of other factors which coalesce to drastically boost the nation’s obesity rates. You see, in few other places can one see so much cheap, calorie-dense, plentiful food served in heaping portions, so few places to walk, so many affordable big cars, so many wide roads and convenient parking spaces, and such cheap gas. The typical American office comes with big parking lots right outside the building or just a few blocks away. The typical American suburb features homes with built-in garages and narrow little sidewalks leading to small parks for the kids. And the typical American’s cost to fill up a car is roughly half of what Europeans would pay. The results are quite significant and dire.
Despite hosting many of the best medical institutions and research labs in the world and access to some of the best medical care you’ll ever find, Americans are experiencing slightly declining life expectancy, the cost of their healthcare far exceeds that of any other wealthy nation, and they’re sicker on average than those who live supposedly at the mercy of a cold, callous, socialized medical system. Why? Americans are effectively eating themselves to death and the world is adopting their habits. Think about that for a second. A superpower that’s being sabotaged by its stomach.
Humans evolved as omnivorous tropical creatures who can be well fed and very happy and healthy at between 1,200 and 1,700 calories a day in adulthood, depending of course on one’s energy expenditure throughout the day, size, and exact body composition. The average American diet is 2,000 calories a day according to nutrition labels, and closer to 3,000 calories a day realistically. Far too much of the American culinary repertoire features fried everything with melted cheese and fatty dips on top. Coupled with a lack of exercise in any way, shape, or form, this lifestyle leads to some medically expensive chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, along with several structural complications like bad joints. Our bodies did not evolve to deal with carrying so much bulk and after many years of it, the wear and tear begins to show.
If we really wanted to improve our healthcare costs and the economy, we would change our lifestyles, rely on more mass transit, and change our cities to make walking more convenient than driving for our daily errands, just like some major U.S. cities are already designed. Because Americans have giant supermarkets and vast shopping malls, they tend to load up the car with a week’s worth of groceries and drive to the nearest malls to make other purchases. But if a smaller store is right nearby, it’s easier just to get some provisions for several days and just run back out when you need something else, or stop by on your way home from the subway. It’s what generally happens in Europe because their cities are much older and originally intended to be crossed on foot.
This is not to mention the money saved on gas, the amount of pollution eliminated with less cars, and the health benefits of walking much more than we usually do. But what politician would be willing to make the necessary investments and tell his or her constituents to put down the fork? How will the voters digest being told that the reason why almost a quarter of their GDP is being spent on healthcare is because of their horrid health habits? When the Tea Party contingent goes into a tizzy at the notion of not feeding kids fried chicken in greasy gravy with canned, sodium packed “vegetables” on the side, screaming about Big Brother’s overreach, suffice it to say that I don’t have high hopes for a quick change in a healthier, more sustainable direction…