“When do you think the American diet was the healthiest?”
This question, posed by panelist Mary Ann Johnson, professor in the University of Georgia Department of Foods and Nutrition, started off this semester’s Issues in Information panel discussion on obesity Wednesday evening in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center.
The approximately 30 students in attendance readily offered up possible answers ranging from the 1990s to the Stone Age.
Fellow panelist Louise Wicker, a professor of food science and technology, said top authors on the subject might say the period just following World War II, but personally she believes the best diet can be found now because of factors such as food safety. The answer seems to depend on who is asked, as many factors contribute to a healthy diet, she said.
Similarly, many things contribute to obesity.
Behind today’s food are microbiologists who make it safe to eat and the chemists who make the it delicious. Wicker said the food industry plays a role in nutrition and obesity; people buy on taste, cost and convenience, taste being the big one.
“The food industry is really good at identifying just the right amount of sweet, just the right amount of salt,” she said. “They make these wonderful, delectable Cheetos that I just love and crave so much, the crunchy ones.”
As far as cost, she said the American food supply is likely the cheapest in the world right now. But, the third and final panelist, Ellen Evans, a professor of kinesiology and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health, asked if lower quality foods were the cheaper foods.
Johnson said although sugary drinks tend to be less expensive than 100 percent juice or milk today, there are affordable healthy foods.
Each panelist had different ideas about what the root problem of the obesity epidemic might be. Johnson said poverty, Evans said a lack of time and Wicker said the amount of processed food the American society consumes.
Wicker asked how the food environment is influenced by exercise.
“We no longer have to move,” Evans said. “You can be wildly successful here in America and walk less than 1,000 steps a day. That’s not a lot of steps.”
Physical activity is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic. She said Americans need to change the way they think about movement. Because of the sedentary nature of the culture in this country, people have a need to intentionally move, she said.
And aside from just the benefit of weight control, Evans said physical activity is important for other kinds of health, specifically the metabolic three: cardiovascular diabetes, diabetes and cancer.
Plus, she said, “You will feel better.”
Keith Nichols, the UGA Libraries’ liaison to the College of Public Health, who helped organize the event, said he believes it was a success.
“I think it went really well. Actually I think the panel had a really good chemistry and a really good report,” he said. “I think they kept it fun and answered a lot of interesting questions that the students actually asked.”