Lisa Wehr's Public Health Blog

Lisa is originally from Sigourney, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Music in 2010. She is currently a first year Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student in community and behavioral health (CBH). Lisa works on the medicine-psychiatry unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Through this blog Lisa hopes to let people learn about the CBH department.

This student blog is unedited and does not necessarily reflect the views of the College of Public Health or the University of Iowa.

15 January 2011

Food and Health

As promised (many moons ago) my views on food, weight, and health.

It is very hard today to escape the constant discussions on the "obesity epidemic" and how it affects the individuals and public health. The Mayo Clinic lists the following consequences of obesity: depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities, increased cancer risk, gallbladder disease, gynecological problems, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, skin problems, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, stroke. It's no wonder so many in the health care field are concerned about obesity. From patients concerned about declining quality of life to payers wondering how to cover rapidly rising costs, everyone has stakes in the game.

But is obesity (which leads to discussion of weight) the only issue here? And is targeting weight the best way to combat the problem? I don't believe so. Where has battling weight gotten us? Obesity has risen and overall health has declined because we are fighting the symptom of the problem, not the cause. As a society, we have forgotten how to feed ourselves. We have forgotten how to listen to our body's signals and to satisfy its needs with real, wholesome food.

I grew up on a farm. My family ate supper together every night and lunches together whenever we kids weren't in school. All our meat came from our own livestock, milk was from the bulk tank, eggs/chickens were raised on our farm or by friends. During the summer, meal preparations included going out to the garden to pick fresh lettuce, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes. My younger brother and I had fun times picking green beans and strawberries for hours every couple days. We canned and froze tomatoes, tomato juice, pickles, sweet corn, apples, applesauce, and apricots. We traipsed through timber to pick fresh blackberries and mulberries at their peak of ripeness.

It took me a long time to discover my "nutritional philosophy." How do I think people should eat? What am I comfortable eating? When I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan I immediately knew that I had hit upon the philosophy that I wanted to guide my eating: Eat food; mostly plants; not too much. The last two of those rules are pretty clear, plant based foods and all food in moderation. But what does eat food mean? Pollan describes food as "something your grandmother would recognize." (Although I would argue that my generation might want to go back to great-grandparents). He creates a continuum from food to food-like substances. Somewhere in the transformation from corn to creamed corn to cornbread to cornflakes to cheetos to high fructose corn syrup we lost the actual food and created something that was edible, but far from the way nature intended it. I highly suggest Michael Pollan's latest book Food Rules, a quick read of simple, memorable, one-sentence rules that can guide your food decisions for life.

Honestly, this is just the beginning of the issue. I could easily go on for days. I find nutrition fascinating and incredibly important for a healthy life. In future posts I plan to cover the importance of weight, disordered eating, and cooking. And if there is anything else on this subject that you would like me to cover please let me know.

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