Despite being one of the most medically advanced nations on the planet, the United States remains one of the unhealthiest.
There are two overwhelming factors affecting the health of Americans - we eat too much of the wrong foods, and we don't exercise nearly enough. The result? Seventy-five percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, and that includes our children.
We are becoming an obese nation at an ever younger age, and that leads to serious health problems. Obesity is a huge factor in diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, abdominal hernias, varicose veins, bladder disease, respiratory problems and liver malfunction.
The huge uproar surrounding the recent healthcare legislation passed by Congress centered around the conflicting scenarios of just how much a national healthcare program is going to cost.
But there is no controversy around the fact that three simple steps would slash the costs of healthcare in this country to very manageable levels:
1. Get people to eat a healthy diet.
2. Get people to maintain a healthy weight.
3. Get people to exercise strenuously on a daily or several times a week basis.
As we are all well aware, while eating right and exercising are the simple parts, it's the "getting people to do it" that is complicated.
In Bellows Falls, the University of Vermont Extension is working on at least one aspect of that through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. EFNEP's Jennifer Chambers, its educator for Windham and Windsor counties, is teaching a free weekly cooking program for young people at the Our Place Drop in Center.
Each week several young people from 11 to 14 come to Our Place after school where they not only get education about healthy cooking, snacks and planning meals, but they also get to do hands-on work in the kitchen preparing the meal they've been talking about, and they bring home a bag of healthy foods to practice what they've learned at home.
In a recent class, the students learned about the effects of unhealthy fats on their bodies, and were shown what a mere extra pound of fat looks like on their bodies - imagine a pound of butter, four of those bars, all melted together. That's just one pound of fat. If you're 20 or 30 pounds overweight, imagine 20 or 30 pound of butter melted into a big glob. That's what you're carrying around.
The students were shown some of the effects of the extra fat from poor eating habits, most notably what bad fats do to the body's arteries, clogging them with plaque that builds up on the sides of the arteries, leading to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.
Chambers noted that one slice of traditional pepperoni pizza has a staggering 18 grams of unhealthy fat, and that even a healthy salad can be a diet disaster if it's covered in dressing with a lot of unhealthy fat in it. Making small, healthy choices like eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, plain pizza instead of pepperoni, eating a regular burger instead of a Big Mac, can dramatically reduce the number of calories and the amount of fat a person eats every day.
The students then created their own whole wheat pizzas with healthy toppings, and made a salad and their own dressing for it based on healthy oils and vinegar. Assisting the students with the cooking were Our Place chef Matt Gowell and volunteer Larisa Demos.
To find out more about the EFNEP and this healthy eating program, contact Chambers at 885-8387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.