On a recent Saturday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, 4,700 people packed the Varied Industries Building to celebrate that much-maligned yet even more-loved meat: bacon. Attendees at the sold-out fifth annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival – “Baconpacalypse” – dined on such gut bombs as bacon sausage, bacon-wrapped jalapenos and bacon-infused doughnut balls topped with chocolate and more bacon, largely oblivious to the volunteers pushing pamphlets describing the increased risk of colorectal cancer associated with eating processed meats.
“I’d be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees,” read one attendee’s t-shirt.
Chalk it up to Iowa, the nation’s largest pork producer. Blame it on winter-weary, cabin-fevered people seeking fat with fun. But is a big-scale bacon binge – like deep-fried fast food, super-sized sugary drinks and fresh produce that’s too pricey or hard to obtain for some – yet one more example of how disastrous our diets have become?
According to the USDA, Americans spend just 9.47 percent of our disposable personal income on food, the lowest on the planet. But we spend far more on health care than any other nation, and – according to the CIA’s World Factbook – we rank 50th among nations in life expectancy. Is our diet killing us?
Without a dramatic change in our diets, a third of American adults will have diabetes by 2050 (up from one in 10 today). According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, obesity already accounts for 10 to 20 percent of the rise in health care spending; obese adults cost 35 percent more than do persons of healthy weight because of their chronic disease risks. The obesity pipeline might only get plumper, as more than one third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese.
These grim realities underscore the important roles that highly competent, compassionate health care professionals can play in counseling patients, advocating for programs and policies, and forming or joining coalitions to fight fat. Perhaps we need not eradicate bacon, but clearly we need guidance, incentives and environments that help us fill our plates – or push them away.