As a nation, America continues to fail when it comes to health. A lack of exercise combined with bad eating habits have caused obesity rates to skyrocket, and have doctors worried about what the future holds.

Dr. Gerald Morris, a regular-care physician at the Marana Health Center, said obesity rates are getting worse. He is seeing patients who are experiencing health problems that are directly associated with their weight at an alarming rate.

“I would say the problems are a mixture of our diet and our culture,” he said. “Many families believe it’s easier to spend $1 on a Happy Meal, instead of spending $4 for some fruits and vegetables. And, the kids are happy, so not a lot of attention is paid to the consequences.”

Adults living unhealthy lifestyles quickly translate into setting bad examples for the younger generation. Childhood obesity rates are much worse than they were 10 and 20 years ago, said Morris.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 68 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese.

According to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 12 percent of children are obese, and 15.8 percent of children are overweight.

“Our kids today are dealing with adult diseases,” said Morris. “It’s going to get worse as long as major aspects in our culture don’t change.”

Local lifestyle coach Anna Burchard, of the Natural Life Holistic Oasis, said the good thing is there is increased awareness; however, there still is not enough action.

“In the last 10 years you can certainly say awareness has gotten better. We know that food choice and the lack of physical activity plays a part,” she said. “The problem is the education and taking action are not there.”

Morris said parents must start making the food decisions based on health factors, not convenience and price. He added, parents also need to get moving, making exercise time a family affair.

People get a real pleasure out of food, which adds to the problem, Burchard said. And with the industry still being about making money, the marketing for fast food remains high.

Burchard agreed with Morris, saying parents have to start thinking about the example they are setting through food.

Health issues

The unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise do not only affect the waistline. The health risks continue to take their toll.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is related to more than 20 major chronic diseases. Currently, one in three adults has some form of heart disease, more than 80 million Americans have type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, and obese children are more than twice as likely to die before the age of 55 when compared to healthy weight children.

Diabetes is a major concern for health professionals.

According to the Trust for America’s Health Association’s 2010 study, “F as in Fat,” 19 states showed significant increases in adult diabetes.

In women’s health, the increase in patients with diabetes is also a growing problem.

Cheryl Ross, a nurse practitioner for the women’s clinic at the Marana Health Center, said they continue to see an increase in gestational diabetes cases.

“We are finding more and more pregnant women who we have to be stricter on weight gain,” she said. “They don’t realize there is an increased risk for both the baby and the mother.”

Ross said while a pregnant woman sees it as her duty to protect her unborn child and usually follows the doctor’s advice, women who are not pregnant take recommendations to lose weight less seriously.

“These women are often doing things for everyone else and not taking care of themselves,” said Ross. “But, we are really trying to get the message through to them that without them, who is going to be able to do all those things?”

While losing weight can be difficult, Ross said they encourage women to start by walking more every day, and when eating, taking portion control seriously.

Contributing factors

When it comes to the younger generation, Burchard said the lack of physical activity became a bigger problem when public schools decided to cut physical education.

“I am seeing more and more young adults who come to me without any muscle mass whatsoever,” she said. “I have no doubt that physical activity needs to be back in our schools.”

When it comes to the kitchen, Burchard said the best thing families can do is get rid of the processed foods.

“We have a fast lifestyle, and want convenience, but the fewer boxes and bags you have in the pantry, the better.”

Morris said the argument that the lower-income families struggle the most with obesity is correct based on his own experience.

Low-income patients traditionally see a doctor when there is a something major wrong, instead of getting annual checkups as needed.

“They don’t get the exams, and it’s those people who have a family history of obesity that need the attention,” he said. “You should always come in and get yourself checked.”

Until the individuals start taking responsibility and making good choices, until the government, businesses, schools and communities start educating the public more, the obesity epidemic is going to increase, and doctors right now are asking when it is going to stop, Morris noted.

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