Seafood part of obesity solution


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
July 28, 2009

Weight loss is difficult for millions of Americans, and a growing number are falling into the obese category. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month estimated that 26.1 percent of Americans were obese in 2008, up from 25.6 percent in 2007, and nearly one-third of U.S. children are overweight and at risk for a slew of health problems.

Obesity has a steep cost for more than just individuals who need to lose excess pounds. Medical spending on obesity-related conditions is estimated at USD 147 billion (EUR 105 billion) annually — almost double the cost in 1998, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs, with much of it covered by taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare. Americans are hooked on sweet and salty foods, and the go-go (or sedentary) lifestyles we lead can leave fewer opportunities for taking proper care of ourselves.

Because proper nutrition is paramount, this is a big opportunity for seafood, the leanest, heart-healthiest protein on the planet. Yet despite all the positive and publicized attributes about fish, including omega-3 fatty acids in certain species, Americans’ seafood consumption has fallen the past two years, down to 16 pounds per capita in 2008. I asked Evie Hansen, president of National Seafood Educators of Richmond Beach, Wash., if seafood could be part of a weight-loss push.

Hansen, who has been touting seafood twice a week for more than three decades, says seafood marketers would be hard pressed to find much official support for a direct eat-seafood-lose-weight claim.

“We always include that in our message,” said Hansen. “But the obesity message is so complex that to come out with ‘eat fish and you’ll lose weight’ has so many barriers: the cost of fish; people don’t often cook at home; other psychological barriers. There are still so many positive messages for seafood — pick one!”

There’s little chance of fat taxing our way out of this pickle. Real change will take years of nutritional education and outreach, and it could be slow in coming. A cheeseburger and fries is as much a symbol of freedom in the United States as the Statue of Liberty. Can people be convinced to try a salmon burger and sweet potato instead?

It’s clear that something’s got to change, or obesity and its corresponding ills — cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, to name just two ¬— could raise the cost of health care reform, currently estimated at USD 1 trillion. Eating a variety of seafood, however, seems like an easy place to start. Encouraging simple, smart food choices is not the entire solution, but a big part of it.

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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