If you’re hooked on soda pop and processed snacks, you’re in good company. A report just released by Santa Monica’s RAND Corporation found that American adults eat twice the recommended amount of cookies, candy, salty snacks, and soda daily. These foods are primary sources of saturated fat, sugar, and calories without nutrient density, which puts this level of consumption at the top of the list of factors contributing to our level of health and risk for disease.
The RAND Corporation is interested in this pattern as part of an overall review of how we can best reduce the amount of money we spend on health care. They have calculated that over the lifetime of an obese 70 year old, Medicare costs are $38,000 more than they would be for a non-obese individual. These costs, of course are shared by everyone who pays into the Medicare system, so it benefits all of us to change our habits and reduce the eventual expense these foods add to an already overburdened health care system. RAND has also calculated that reducing the incidence of obesity by 50% could reduce Medicare spending by approximately $1.2 billion.
Health educators often encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption as a health behavior to reduce risk. While these foods are important for their antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, the RAND study found that introducing fruit into the diet only reduced caloric intake of junk food by about 16 calories a day. Part of the issue here may be that people who gravitate toward processed foods may be buying foods claiming to contain a serving of fruit which are not really appropriate substitutes. Part of the problem may also be the belief that a piece of fruit somehow “cancels out” the negative aspects of the junk. Yogurt, cereal bars, etc., often promote the suggestion that their products contain a serving of fruit, when in fact in the form in which they are added they hardly resemble what came off of the tree. When fruits are eaten whole, and not juiced or processed, they genuinely do change consumption. As part of a processed, sweetened and/or salted snack, they merely perpetuate the misbelief that adding something that sounds healthy to the ingredient list somehow gives that food magical powers.
The bottom line appears to be, if we are going to get healthier as a nation, we are going to have to develop a love affair with whole, fresh foods, and, once and for all, break off that toxic romance we have with junk.