The more I started paying attention to this issue, the more appalled I became. I find myself outraged into having discussions with strangers in stores.
A couple weeks ago, I railed against parents who knowingly allow their kids to get super fat without a genuine medical issue. What I am talking about today are all the things that cause obesity that aren't the parents' faults.
Let's start with sodium. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much salt can lead to serious health problems. The 2010 daily guideline is less than a teaspoon per day. That's about 2,300 milligrams. It's half that if your over age 51, a max of 1,500 milligrams daily.
"The average American gets about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day – much more than recommended," says the MayoClinic.com.
Recently, I discovered some alarming sodium amounts in foods I usually buy. For example, I like to snag up the values at Sam's Club. One of them used to be flour tortillas. They have a huge display of Mission brand in all kids of colors and flavors.
When looking at the label, however, I realized that some kinds have a whopping 590 milligrams of sodium each. Four taco-sized tortillas max out the entire daily sodium intake.
Comparably, a one ounce individual bag of Lay's Classic potato chips in my cupboard has only 170 milligrams. Whereas a can of regular soup has 900 to 1,000 milligrams per can!
Unless we really hunt for low-sodium items, and read labels carefully, we are in trouble before we even sit down to the table.
Here's another thing to consider. If you are going out to a restaurant, the best way to save money is to check out their nutritional information online before you leave. My bet is that you'll freak at the calories and fat and sodium in these foods and stay home.
Recently a wise teenage friend of mine turned me onto a book called Eat This Not That, by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding. In the 2011 edition, it lists the 20 worst foods in America.
The worst kids meal, according to the book is from the California Pizza Kitchen. It says the kids portion of curly mac 'n' cheese has the nutritional equivalent of 8.5 large orders of Burger King onion rings.
According to the California Pizza Kitchen web site, the meal has 1,041 calories, 33 grams of fat, 735 milligrams of sodium. Also, their fusilli pasta alfredo has 929 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 559 milligrams of sodium.
California Pizza Kitchens are in Chicagoland, but not in Shorewood. Closer to home, another popular family restuaruant is Applebee's. Their kids grilled cheese has 620 calories, 35 grams of fat, and 1,440 sodium. It should be illegal to serve that to kids.
Q: Is anybody else surprised by these numbers?
These are supposed to be casual family restaurants. Some of these places have nutritional information online. Al's Beef here in Shorewood, for example, does not.
We, as parents, should not need to be Sherlock Holmes in order to feed our children healthy foods.
A third consideration is sugar. I have a sweet tooth just like anyone else. However, even the non-sugary foods have sugar added.
One of the most eye-opening facts I learned about America's addiction to sugar came from bread. While living overseas, my family made the daily trek to the bakery to buy fresh-baked bread. It has a different taste. When they came here, they complained, "Your bread is so sweet!"
Ah. That was the difference. The average loaf of bread here has sugar in it. It's not enough to jump up and down about. In my opinion, the bigger problem is that even with something savory, we are training our tastebuds to demand sweets.
How can we get the sugar monkey off our backs if even the most basic food items are laced with it? The vitamin D milk in my fridge right now has 11 grams of sugar. The whole wheat bread has 3 grams per slice.
Americans have an insatiable sweet tooth. It's like crack. The more the processed food supplies it, the more we demand it. The more we demand it, producers ratchet up the quantities and give us what we want.
Some other things causing obesity that parents cannot control have nothing to do with food. The other side of the obesity equation is the lack of exercise. In this big, beautiful expansive country, Americans have spread out – and not just in our britches.
Larger cities grew upward, like Chicago's skyscrapers. In suburbs like Shorewood, neighborhoods and businesses are low and wide. We need to drive everywhere to get anywhere.
The basic daily exercise of walking to work or the store doesn't happen like it used to. That's another reason why Europeans are so much thinner than we are, because they have to walk everywhere.
When we factor in modern conveniences like computers and video games, and the average American doesn't stand a chance. We have to really work at staying healthy.