By Gigi Nally, Diversions Editor
In our current political climate, we may be confused about many things — who to support, how to increase our country’s safety, how to stand together when we feel torn apart — but one thing we all agree on is the importance of putting healthy food into our bodies. Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of what foods would serve us best. We buy a box of cereal because it is cheap and tastes good, but we overlook the sugar content. We buy ground beef for a cookout, but we ignore the high amount of cholesterol and saturated fat. Foods considered appropriate for social situations and special occasions are often detrimental to our health. Our culture has trained us to be more concerned about fitting in than being healthy. Advertisers taunt us with bargain deals (buy this big bag of chips and get a jar of cheese-dip free!). And we give in to temptation because we want easy, cheap and tasty food. The problem? These foods are filled with excess calories, oils and sugars. These foods contribute to the high obesity rate in South Carolina, one of the highest in the nation. South Carolina is ranked as the 13th most obese state in the country, with an adult obesity rate of over 31 percent. With accompanying health risks like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout and more, obesity is a serious danger we must confront. Around 300,000 people die per year due to the obesity epidemic.
People with a lack of health awareness and education are more likely to become overweight. And typically, people with a low economic status are more likely to be uneducated about health. These populations need to have easier access to affordable health foods and more education as to what foods provide adequate nutrition and support a healthy lifestyle.
We can look to other southern states who have implemented health awareness programs for advice. In 2009 in Louisiana, The Healthy Food Retail Act was passed. According to the CDC, the Act authorized a statewide financing program “to attract healthier food retail venues to underserved neighborhoods in Louisiana.” Since 2009, the childhood and high-school obesity rates in Louisiana have declined. We should establish food education programs like these in South Carolina. This type of program would be especially beneficial in lower-developed areas in order to create an inclusive environment for people of all economic backgrounds.
Local council members should pass a bill to implement incentivized programs, offering free nutrition classes which teach consumers how to read food labels and shop healthily on a budget. Introducing programs like these in our local grocery stores would benefit the health of the community as well as the retailer by bringing more attention to their business.
We need to recognize the people who have limited access to nutrition education in our city of Greenville. Encouraging and supporting healthy habits in the Greenville community could reduce the high obesity rate and improve the health of South Carolinians. As for me, health-nuts often feel disregarded and out of place in social situations in SC. Food is an important aspect of southern life — from barbecues and cookouts to banquets and cocktail parties — and we should regard our health with the same importance. Why should a healthy lifestyle and cultural appreciation for food be opposed? Why can’t they go hand-in-hand? Healthy food can be delicious, and passing a bill to educate people about nutrition would create an inclusive environment and reduce the South Carolina obesity rate. Our community could be better served by reaching for products that fill our bodies with nutrition rather than those that will deplete our bodies of nutrients.