It is hard to figure out, as WBEZ’s Monica Eng points out in this excellent piece, why the surgeon general keeps talking about walking but skips conversation about the importance of changing our diets.
Dr. Vivek Hallagere Murthy, who became the 19th U.S. Surgeon General last December, was in Chicago last week to talk about children’s health, and as Eng notes, talked about nutrition for all of 24 seconds. Eng says he talked about other issues dealing with the health of our younger population and what seems to be his obsession, walking.
Earlier this month, you may remember, Murthy unveiled the first comprehensive report on U.S. physical activity since 1996: Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. In it he recommends everyone get 150 minutes of walking a week. He also talks about the importance of making communities safer and walkable.
I’m all for everyone getting up and moving. It does a lot of wonderful things: creates stronger bodies, combats stress, helps us sleep better.
But, as Eng points out, it is our diets that are wreaking havoc with our waistlines and our health. And it’s not like this is information that we’re just hearing. For more than a decade there has been strong evidence that what Americans eat is making them not only fatter, but sicker. One has to wonder if Murthy has read anything written by Dr. Robert Lustig, Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and a host of others who have researched the problem so thoroughly and come up with the same conclusion: what we eat — namely carbohydrates, particularly the overly processed variety — is making us fat and sick.
And exercise, though great for the reasons I mention above, is not the answer. As Margo Wootan, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, candidly says in the excellent documentary “Fed Up”: “We are not going to exercise our way out of this obesity problem.”
I think it is downright troubling that our current surgeon general has put the focus on exercise. That’s what the food industry would like us to think: oh, if we’d only exercise enough we’d be thinner and healthier. Why, oh why, is he spreading the same message?
I’d strongly suggest that Murthy watch “Fed Up” and follow the stories that unfold in the 2014 documentary. The situations of three real children are interwoven in it. These kids are running, swimming, and doing Murthy’s favorite, walking, and yet as we see in “Fed Up,” they are getting nowhere. I found it heartbreaking to see how hard these kids are trying to bring their weight down, following the tired (and wrong) mantra to eat less/exercise more. (I may be sounding like a broken record, but I will say this yet again: If this really was the solution, why then are two-thirds of Americans either overweight or obese?)
In “Fed Up,” science journalist — and my personal hero — Gary Taubes is a little more blunt: “We’re blaming the willpower and the fortitude of these kids, and it’s a crime.”