Well Being

Well, This Is A Problem: Americans Think A Healthy Diet Is Harder Than Doing Taxes

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There’s a lot of hand-wringing over American obesity. It’s threatening to crush the nation into oblivion! It’s mean to talk about! It’s the government’s fault! It’s the obese population’s fault! But the fact about obesity is that it’s a complex issue with many, many causes. Among them: a lack of education about how to make it better. In fact, many Americans find that doing their own taxes is easier than eating a healthy diet.

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey, 52% of Americans said doing their own taxes seems simpler than try to improve their diet and exercise more. Which in and of itself is kind of a disturbing figure–taxes are pretty much the gold standard for things that suck–but coupled with the rest of the information in the survey, it paints a pretty grim picture of health education in the country. On the whole, we genuinely don’t know what’s good for us.

Apparently, most Americans still consider themselves to be healthy. Nine out of 10 describe their health as “good”–despite the fact that two out of three are either overweight or obese. That’s not to say that overweight or obese people can’t be health (we know that’s not true), but we also know that obesity comes with a host of very serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Which points to the bigger issue: Americans who are probably not actually in “good” health think that they are doing just fine. And yet, we still, as a country, are constantly dieting. That’s how divergent our health and our weight seems to many of us.

Over half of survey responders noted that they are, at this time, trying to lose weight–and only 20% said they’re not doing anything about their weight at all. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the right tools to be successful. From the survey:

While the majority of Americans (71%) estimated their daily calorie needs, 64 percent of them estimated incorrectly with nearly half (49%) under estimating.  Only about one in seven Americans (15%) accurately estimates the number of calories they need to maintain their weight.  More than half of Americans are unable to provide an estimate of how many calories they burn in a day (52%) or offer inaccurate estimates (19% say 1000 calories or less).

With so much mixed messaging coming from food companies, diet products, and gimmicky books, weight loss feels like a game that most Americans just can’t win. So even when they try to lose weight, they’re being set up to fail, due to a lack of clear, easy information. Don’t believe me? Ask the average adult how many calories and grams of sugar are in a glass of juice. Better yet, ask is juice is a healthy food. Despite having tons of sugar, no fiber, way fewer vitamins than a multi, and basically no nutritional value, it’s still considered a staple for many people–due to overwhelming message that it’s a necessary item. This mixed messaging also explains the success of the diet industry; because a healthy diet and exercise seem so hard, turning to a pill or a quick fix to lose weight starts to look more appealing, more simple.

We are getting healthier-ish–according to another survey by the Kellogg Foundation, Americans are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables and, as Grist points out, they’re actually doing it.  So we do know which foods are definitely healthy. But fresh produce is only part of the equation–how we cook it, how much we eat, how often we eat, and what to eat in restaurants is still pretty mysterious. That’s where education and intervention comes in.

There’s no One Answer To Rule Them All when it comes to the American obesity crisis. But this problem of education could be headed off with aggressive education in elementary and junior high schools. If we teach our kids now that calories aren’t a mystery, that healthy eating isn’t hard, and that exercise is great, we may be able to help guide the next generation in a healthier direction. There will always be CPAs to do our taxes–but there’s no one who can lose weight for us.

Image: matka_Wariatka via Shutterstock