What a Waste – What a Waist: The Conservation - Health Connection
It seems that the only thing increasing faster than America’s waistline is America’s waste of natural resources and energy. Simply stated, America is too gluttonous and too fat; Hummer-hungry and Hummer-sized.
Nationwide, more that 129.6 million American adults (64%) are overweight or obese. Obesity in America has increased threefold since the 1960’s with nearly two-thirds of adults and nine million children being overweight or obese (Brownell, 2003). Researchers believe that if present trends do not change our children will be the first in history to have shorter life-spans than their parents (Olshansky, 2005). Dr. Frank Booth, a physiologist at the University of Missouri, has even give a name to the epidemic of overweight and obesity that is killing so many Americans. He calls it, sedentary death syndrome (Deford, 2003). The costs, both in health care and lost productivity associated with the above exceed one hundred billion dollars (100B) per year (Symon, 2004). Overweight residents in California alone cost the State over twenty-two billion dollars (22B) per year, an amount equal to the salaries of 660,000 entry level school teachers (Nordqvist, 2005). The cost in Michigan is nearly nine billion dollars (9B) per year, $1,175 per adult resident (Chenoweth, 2003).
The bulging of America is often overlooked because as American’s have gotten bigger so have their homes, furniture, automobiles, clothes, even the caskets that hold their jumbo-sized corpses. Home sizes in the past thirty years have ballooned by fifty percent while the number of residents in these homes has decreased (MotherJones, 2005). Gas-guzzling, sport utility vehicle sales have increased steadily over the past four years (Van Tsui, 2005). And, for the first time casket makers are manufacturing super-sized models, some as wide as forty-four inches (The average is 24” – 26”), to accommodate the increasing number of Americans who are dying from sedentary death syndrome (Connolly, 2005).
America’s indulgence is fed by a greedy, unrestrained, and unparalleled consumption of natural resources and energy that fuels gluttonous people, their homes, and their automobiles. America, which is five-percent of the world’s population, consumes twenty-one million barrels of oil per day, twenty-five percent of the world’s total (Samuelson, 2005). The end result is excess human waist(s) and excess waste(s) in the environment. It would take five planet earths to satisfy the needs of every person in the world if each person consumed as much as Americans (Quaker Earthcare Witness, 2005).
Our family had personal experience with the devastating effects of America’s wasteful practices when we moved to the Arctic and lived with Canada’s Inuit as part of a sabbatical study. Sadly, we witnessed first-hand the pollution from America that travels to the Arctic with the northbound winds and gets trapped in the caribou and marine mammals that are integral to the Inuit’s ancestral diet.
The bodies of Arctic people, particularly Greenland’s Inuit contain the highest concentrations of industrial chemicals and pesticides found anywhere on Earth – levels so extreme that the breast milk and tissues of some Greenlanders could be classified as hazardous waist (Cone, 2004).
Our sadness was heightened knowing that our new Arctic friends were not to blame for the sickness that harms their babies and children. It is Americans who are responsible for many of the toxins that plague Arctic people. It is also Americans who are grossly irresponsible in their devotion to conserve and protect the environment. The Inuit have few, if any ways to protect themselves from America’s irresponsibility.
Polluting Our Bodies – Polluting Our Planet
There is an unmistakable link between America’s overweight and obesity crisis, and America’s environmental crisis. When you juxtapose the data from each you see that during the past twenty years Americans have dramatically increased their waists while at the same time increasing their waste of natural resources and energy.
The Conservation – Health Connection
America’s interest in the connections between environmental conservation and good health has a long and well documented history. In 1857 Samuel H. Hammond wrote about the connections in his book, Wild Northern Scenes: Sporting Adventures with Rifle and Rod. In his book he celebrates the Adirondack wilds and advocates the preservation of wilderness for recreation and rejuvenation. Hammond was followed by other voices such as George Bird Grinnell (1870), organizer of the Audubon Society; President Theodore Roosevelt (1901) whose domestic policy focused on conservation and recreation; and Sir Robert Baden-Powell (1908) the founder of the Boy Scouts movement whose mission was healthy character development through nature and recreation (The Library of Congress).
Throughout America’s history recreation (To re-create, give new life, refresh), has helped citizens better understand and appreciate the environment and good health. The International Olympic Committee recently made environmental conservation the third pillar of Olympism along with sport and culture. Put simply, people who participate in recreation and outdoor sporting activities appreciate clean and unspoiled air, water, and land, and good health.
The connections between conservation and good health have led to an emerging science known as Conservation Medicine or Conservation Health. The basic idea is simple: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically (Moss, 2004).” Conservation Health is, “...about the interconnectedness of all life and the fact that human behavior has consequences (Moss, 2004).”
Our collective behavior is comparable, as someone once put it, to yeast cells in a wine vat, destined to grow until overcome by our own waste products. The result is equivalent to a binge – yeast cells feeding on sugars; human feeding on fossil fuels. If there is a better analogy, I have not heard it. The difference is that, unlike yeast cells, we supposedly have both the possibility of foreknowledge that the “morning after” looms ahead and, presumably, the intelligence to do something smarter instead (Orr, 2006).
Environmental conservation and health are interconnected. Intelligent measures to alter our destructive behavior must address both simultaneously.
Education: Our Best Hope
America&rsquos; best hope for dealing with its health and environmental crisis is to focus a significant amount of our energies on young people. Simply stated, we must make health and environmental conservation an important part of every child&rsquos;s education. And, because many American families have limited knowledge and understanding of the problems and solutions relevant to both, it is our schools and teachers who must provide the resources and serve as the catalysts to change current trends.
America&rsquos;s best hope for dealing with its health and environmental crisis is to focus a significant amount of our energies on young people. Simply stated, we must make health and environmental conservation an important part of every child&rsquos;s education. And, because many American families have limited knowledge and understanding of the problems and solutions relevant to both, it is our schools and teachers who must provide the resources and serve as the catalysts to change current trends.
When one examines current trends related to health, physical education, and science education one can easily see the inadequacies. For example, among high school age students only 29% attend daily physical education classes, a dramatic decline from the 41% who attended in 1991 (CDC, 2005). With two school age children I have witnessed this erosion first hand. Our ten year old son has one forty-minute physical education class per week, and our high school daughter has none. Is it any wonder that American children are overweight and obese? Equally disturbing is the fact that the American educational system is not preparing citizens to know and understand a world that is increasingly dominated by technology and science. This reality comes at a time when many parents, school boards, and politicians have focused their energies not on teaching science and the scientific method, but instead using valuable time required for science education to teach intelligent design, a non-science subject. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that young people in the United States rank 15th in math and ninth in science proficiency when compared to their peers in 45 other countries (Lloyd, 2005).
As a first step to shift current trends schools and teachers can begin to use an integrative approach to teaching health, physical education and science, specifically as they relate to healthy living and conservation. One example of this approach is the work taking place at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
Grand Valley State University&rsquos;s Department of Movement Science together with GVSUs School of Engineering have teamed up to create an innovative program called, S P A R K L E – Spinning Physical and Renewable Kinetic Living Energy. S P A R K L E is using human motion on an exercise bicycle to enhance health and physical fitness and teach science based conservation, while at the same time producing usable electric energy.
Students from Michigan are actually powering their classrooms using SPARKLE bicycle generators. In addition to promoting health and fitness, the bicycle generators create light and recharge useable batteries that the children use to power their games, cellular telephones, and music players.
The goal of S P A R K L E is to create a new generation of global residents (Sparklers) who understand the importance of health/fitness and renewable energy.
Any hope for a graceful and enriched future must include natural harmony with our environment and with our bodies. The connections between the two are tightly woven, what affects one affects the other. If each of us makes an effort to become a Sparkler, like those being created in Michigan, we can collectively preserve and protect our health and the health of our plant now and for the future.
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Center for Disease Control. (2005). “Promoting better health.”
Chenoweth, D. (2003). “The economic cost of physical inactivity in Michigan,” Michigan Council on Physical Fitness.
Cone, M. (2004, Jan. 18). &ldquos;Pollutants drift north, making Inuits&rsquos; traditional diet toxic,” Boston Globe, p. A12.
Connolly, D. (2005, May 2). “As obesity increases so do casket sizes,” Casper Star Tribune.
Deford, F. (2003, May 15). “Health risks fly as phys ed dives,” Detroit Free Press. http://.
Library of Congress (2002, May 3).“The evolution of conservation.”
Lloyd, M. (2005, September 20). “Investing in new ideas,” Grand Rapids Press, pp. A6.
Moss, D. (2004). &ldquos;Conservation health,” The Environmental Magazine.
MotherJones (2005, March/April). “This new home,” MotherJones. http:/www.motherjones.com.
Nordqvist, C. (2005, April 6). “Overweight costing California $22 billion per year,” Medical News Today. http:/www.medicalnewstoday.com.
Olshansky, S.J. (2005, March 17). “A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century,” New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 352:1138-1145, No. 11.
Orr, D. W. (2006, October 20). “A Meditation on Building,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. B3.
Quaker Earthcare Witness. (2005). “Sustainable energy: An earth-friendly view,” pp. 3. http://www.fcun.org/sustain/energy.html
Samuelson, R. (2005, April 1). “America must produce more oil and conserve more,” The Grand Rapids Press, p. A9.
Symon, F. (2004, Jan. 22). “Cost of obesity in the US put at $75 billion a year,” Financial Times, p. 1-2. .