This Day in 2007: $40 Billion

Curious as to what I was focused on back on November 14, 2007? Check out this post from my original blog, Peaceful Ponderings, below:

$40 Billion

That’s a lot of money, right? What could it possibly be spent on?

–  Taxpayer dollars going towards the never-ending war on drugs

– The amount Americans spend on their pets annually

– Exxon/Mobil’s 2006 profit

By far, however, my favorite (and, if you haven’t caught on, I am being extremely facetious) mode of spending such a large chunk of cash was brought to my attention last night while channel surfing. I ended up watching NBC’s The Biggest Loser, a competition based around which contestant can lose the most weight. The show includes trivia before every commercial break, one of which was the following: How much money do Americans spend on dietary supplements each year? The answer:

$40 Billion

I literally scoffed aloud once the answer was revealed. $40 billion going into an industry that aids weight-loss by what can only be called questionable means. We’ve seen it before, the miracle drug that will make you drop 10 pounds in a week; the magic pill that will have you looking like Giselle by your next beach vacation. Most of the time we hear about the negative side-effects some months later, or even a drug recall. And yet, Americans are still looking for the fast, easy way to drop the LBs when all it comes down to is upping your exercise and eating a healthier diet. We are a fast-paced country and we want everything done right NOW. We don’t want to wait for results, we want the easy way out. So what happens? We continue pouring our money into an industry that keeps churning out temporary results.

According to MSN.com, “Of the nearly 55 million Americans who will go on some kind of diet program, a slim percentage will successfully shed the weight and keep it off. Only 5% to 10% of us succeed, but we all contribute to the staggering $40 billion in revenue amassed by the weight-loss industry annually.” Pretty sickening, no? Especially when you understand that the majority of the advertising that goes into these campaigns are worded to trick you into buying their product, even when the companies producing these products know there is a slim (no pun intended) chance that buyers will see lasting results – or results at all for that matter.

Just because a product says it is “FDA approved” does not mean it is safe and effective; indeed, many times pills go on the shelves only to be taken off a few months down the road because a glitch in the product was found. If you go by testimonials, results are usually very rare if they were even the result of the product they are backing at all. If you see an ad for a diet supplement that requires nothing more from you other than taking a pill daily, be skeptical. Without diet and exercise, you will not lose weight. Such companies realize this and only want to make sure you continue to buy their product. Why else would all of these powders and pills be so costly?

All of this is only a mask for problems at the center of American society. One is our rising rates of obesity, especially in children. The second is our warped sense of body image, taking its toll on everyone from pre-teens to the elderly.

Let’s take obesity first. As mentioned before, we are living in a country that prides itself on getting things done fast. We are virtually like no other country in the world in terms of our work initiative. We put in more hours at the office annually than anyone else and take less vacation time. We also rely on fast food services in order to maintain our “on-the-go” lifestyles. Even if you are not the type of person who frequents a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell every week, you may have some microwaveable dinners stocked in your freezer. The easier food is to prepare, the more likely it is to be stocked with sodium, fat and other chemicals that make it easier to gain weight. The amount of hours Americans work causes them not only to be unable to cook healthier meals for themselves and their families, but to have less and less time to exercise in their spare time. To be sure, even when the work day is over, most of us bring it home with us to finish up while watching TV with the kids.

Our work ethic may be keeping our businesses moving forward at quicker and quicker paces, but it is also contributing to our obesity epidemic. According to the CDC, the obesity rates among children and adolescents has steadily increased in the past 8 years or so:

1999-2000
At risk for overweight 28.2%
Overweight 13.9%

2001-2002
At risk for overweight 30.0%
Overweight 15.4%

2003-2004
At risk for overweight 33.6%
Overweight 17.1%

Comparable statistics have been recorded in every age group thereafter. To be sure, some of these numbers include Americans with different factors at work, including genes and hormonal disorders. But since such factors have been present before, there must be environmental issues that are playing a part now, causing these numbers to rise. The sedentary lifestyle of Americans now more than ever is surely not benefiting our health. Most of us come home after spending the day at school in a desk, with only 30 minutes of exercise if we’re lucky, or staring at a computer screen for 7 hours, only to sit in front of a TV watching several hours of our favorite programs, or playing video games, until we go to sleep to wake-up and do it all over again. Unless you are extremely disciplined or inspired, it is very difficult to muster up the energy to go jogging or walk on the Treadmill after a long working day. It is unfortunate that our lives have come to this, not being able to enjoy life because of the amount of work we put in in order to maintain a certain economic-level of happiness.

Even if you do have your diet under control and get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, the images and expectancies we are bombarded with by the media day after day are enough to make even the most in-shape person question her body. The super-thin models and muscular men that grace our television sets every night are what society seems to be telling us we all must aspire to. Seeing these perfect bodies on a regular basis can make anyone feel inadequate, especially considering that these images are of people in the minority in terms of size and weight. When one holds themselves to such narrow definitions of beauty, self-esteem sinks, especially if one lacks the control to change their body into something else. Depression is often a result as well. All of these factors contribute to the rise in eating and exercise disorders we have come to view as “normal” in America today. Originally thought of as a problem only found in women, more and more men are being diagnosed with Anorexia, Bulimia and over-exercising problems than ever before. I am quite sure we all know what Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are, even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. I cannot tell you how many of my friends who don’t have eating issues have told me that they have made themselves throw-up before after eating “too much,” even those who would be categorized as skinny. Even though genetic factors may enter into it, it has really come down to a cultural plague that needs to end.

As more and more campaigns are coming out to counter the negative pull of the “mini-minded media”, we can see a slow shift in the way Americans are viewing themselves. The National Organization for Women launched the LOVE YOUR BODY in 1998 in the hopes of empowering women, pointing out ads that are offensive –

– and those that are positive –

The above is taken from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (www.campaignforrealbeauty.com), a true inspiration since its inception in 2004. Starting out with an aim specifically targeted to American women, they now cater to over 30 countries across the globe, including Vietnam, Chile, Brazil, and Arabia, empowering women of every age, race and shape to take hold of their lives and love themselves for their diversity. Which brings us to my final qualm: ageism.

Sure, we spend $40 billion on dietary supplements, but how much do we spend on plastic surgery and products that keep us looking younger? “The global market is now worth $20bn, with the number of procedures in the US growing by 15% a year, says the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery” (www.moneyweek.com). As middle-age is gradually rising from 40 to 60, the pressure to look younger is rising as well, with professionals retiring later and later. What ever happened to aging with dignity? Recently actress and author Jamie Lee Curtis has taken up a battle with the cosmetic industry. A fierce fighter for aging naturally and loving your body, flaws and all, Curtis is disgusted at what people, women specifically, are doing to their bodies. In an Access Hollywoodinterview with Nancy O’Dell, Curtis had the following to say:

Jamie: There is an obsession going on with thinness, with plastic surgery, it’s an obsession and it’s going to kill people. And it’s as simple as that. If people can’t be satisfied with the way they look, you can diet, you can do some exercise, you can change your habits. I’m not saying people– it’s just like, “OK, I’m– this is who I am, I get to eat whatever I want and that’s fine.” I’m saying if you focus on yourself, make good choices, change bad behaviors, but that’s what you’re left with at the end of the day, you have to be satisfied at some point. This obsession, these poor girls who are walking around so, so thin, it’s just–

Nancy: But the image that everybody portrays . . .

Jamie: I understand, but you have to ask yourself, who is setting that? Who is setting that line? See, I don’t think necessarily that that’s Hollywood’s fault. I think that it’s a culture, there’s now this obsession with it. There’s this obsession with body image, there’s this obsession with changing the way you look. I don’t think you can attribute it to Hollywood. I think it’s a mental illness. It’s like a global illness now….You know, where are the good role models for kids? Where are they?

I couldn’t agree with her more. I say, love yourself the way you were born, age gracefully and embrace every part of yourself. There is nothing wrong or bad with growing old – it’s a luxury to enjoy, not avoid.

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Filed under Social Justice, Women

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