Jackie Gingrich Cushman

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for adults and children since the mid-1970s. Data from two National Health and Examination Studies (1976 – 1980 and 2003 – 2004) show that in adults aged 20–74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15.0% to 32.9%. Children follow this same trend with 13.9% of 2– to 5-year-olds, 18.8% of 6– to 11-year-olds, and 17.4% of 12– to 19-year-olds being overweight.

In addition, the CDC states that “being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions,” including high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats like cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and breathing problems and some cancers.

Clearly we have not only a health-care crisis in our country, but a health crisis.

A recent article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” titled, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years” offered some intriguing insight. It determined that weight gain in one person appears to be associated with weight gain in that person’s friends.

The authors offered possible explanations, including the increased social acceptability of being overweight or obese. On a hopeful note, they state, “Network phenomena might be exploited to spread positive health behaviors.”

There is however some good news for those of use who live in the normal world, have normal jobs and other obligations. “The biggest impact of physical activity on improved longevity and quality of life can be achieved by almost anyone,” according to Dr. Steven Blair, an internationally recognized authority on exercise and its health benefits, and professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “If a person simply walks 10 minutes, three times a day, five days a week, then they will improve their aerobic fitness, feel better, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. “

The good news is that most people visiting Sea World probably achieved this level of activity walking around the park. The question is will they continue to be active in their every day lives?

I believe that we do in fact influence those around us, and that we should all strive to be positive role models, recognizing that we are human and have failings. We can all strive to be healthier simply by walking more and eating less. After all, it is not only good for our own health, but might be good for our friends’ health as well.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.