Difficult to Swallow

What I am about to write about is a something that is not easy to talk about. It is something that I see everyday. It is something that is plaguing the health of this country and is costing the American people billions of dollars. It is so prevalent that it almost appears as if it is the norm. There is a movement towards its acceptance in social media and in the general public. It is prevalent throughout all socioeconomic classes, yet it unfortunately affects the poor more than any other class (among many other things that affect the poor the most, which is another discussion in its entirety). I want to present the facts gathered from the CDC to you before I share my thoughts on the issue. I want to talk about something that I am going to call “nutritional obesity.”

More than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese.

The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008.

The medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

There are 12.7 million obese children and adolescents between the ages of 2-19.

In our state of South Carolina, only 9.3% (nationally 14%) of people are receiving their daily value of fruits and vegetables. Only 18.6% of adults meet aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines. Only 23.8% of South Carolinians exercise daily.

As of 2011 to 2012 in South Carolina, only 36.1% of our youth have access to parks, community centers, and sidewalks in their neighborhood. With that number being even less in lower socioeconomic communities.

Do you know what is despairing about these statistics? They did not surprise me at all, and it probably did not make you jump out of your seat either.

During my second year as a medical student, I typically will walk to the hospital cafeteria every day to eat lunch. As I sit down to eat my meal, I will look around me to see a diverse group of people eating their meal in the food court. I see patients, nurses, custodians, doctors, administrators, students, and visitors all sitting in the same open room. My eyes will then move toward their lunches, and all I see is unhealthy food. From burgers to fries, people are gulping down their meals with a large soda. The other day, I sat down next to a table at which an elderly female patient sat.

She was eating a sandwich that had so much mayonnaise on it that I could not make out what was actually inside the bread. With a side of fries and a tall drink, she also had bought two extra-large cookies. One of which she ate, and the other she tucked away in her purse for later. As she slowly walked away with her oxygen tank on her walker, I immediately began to question.

Why is this woman doing this to herself? Why is she causing her body more harm than good by ingesting so much fat and sugar? Does she even know that with her weight, that she will probably need a knee and hip replacement in the coming years because her body was never built to support that much weight? Does she know that she is at an increased risk for a stroke and heart attack among other diseases? Is she eating so much because she is depressed, stressed, or suffering from increased amounts of anxiety? Does she care about her health? Does she have some family and friends that are helping her regain her healthy and liveliness? Has she struggled with weight and eating her whole life? Did something happen in her life that has caused her to eat this way? Does she receive enough physical exercise? How is her mental health? Does she try to exercise and eat well but to no avail? Does she have access to healthy food resources in her neighborhood? Is she disabled? Has she gained the weight because she has a diagnosed medical condition? Can she perform any physical activity these days? Does she have enough money to even afford healthy food? Does she know how many calories and grams of sugar are in her meal? Does she know the amount of money she is costing this hospital system to treat her preventable diseases associated with her weight? Does the hospital know that our patients are doing unhealthy things in a place where health should be our number one priority? Do we even truly care about our patients? Are we treating the underlying problem with the patient? Do we even have enough staff to educate our patients? Do we just do the best we can during the time we have? What are we not doing right? Is it the hospital’s problem, the patient’s problem, or a problem with our government? Is society the problem? Social media? Why is unhealthy food so much cheaper than nutritious alternatives ? Why are there more fast food options in low-income neighborhoods? Why are we marketing to our culture things not good for us? Do we have any sense of livelihood anymore? What went wrong with this woman? Where have I gone wrong? What can I do to help her? Is it too late?

As you can see, I have about 100 different questions racing through my head as I continue to witness obesity. It is a topic that we all do not want to talk about in fear of offending our friends, families, and even patients. As health care providers, even as common citizens, we should strive towards health. I know that one day I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow up. I do not want to spend the last days of my life with a multitude of wires and tubes inside of me while I lay in a hospital bed. I do not want to cause a financial burden on my family due to my inability to secure a future for my health.  I want to be able to walk around outside and not live with the constant pain, fear, and anxiety that can come with obesity.

I have written this note because I do not want you to suffer with things that can be prevented with help. There are a multitude of factors that shape our health into the people we are. I believe the decision to choose life is ultimately ours. As a future physician, I can counsel patients as best as I can, preform procedures to help alleviate pain, administer medications when needed, and guide you back towards health. It pains me to witness patients struggle with obesity, while others choose to leave their health burden for others to handle. It also pains me to know that there are so many patients that feel like there is no way out of their current state. They believe that there is no way to combat their physical state and nothing will change. It pains me that social media has grown to accept obesity and has allowed people to live in a constant state that could result in a healthcare emergency at any moment. It is sad that so many people are misinformed about proper health management. It pains me that large food corporations market towards our desire for comfort – sugar, salt, and fat. I wish you could see what poor diet and lifestyle does to your body from within.

My plea is for you to take a small step towards reaching a small goal, and then build upon that goal. I urge you to think about your health and the influence it has on our youth. I want you to be proud of choosing life. I have witnessed overweight patients exercising and choosing healthy food options at meals. You are a shining example of commitment, determination, and effort. Do not be afraid to bring up serious issues in a positive way with your friends and family about issues such as obesity. There is no reason to criticize a person’s health without knowing their history and story. I believe there is a right way to approaching sensitive subjects, and this topic is one of them.


Tee Griscom

Tee Griscom

I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee before heading to Furman University for my undergraduate studies. Football brought me to South Carolina, and I participated on the varsity team for a little over a year before deciding to focus more of my time on my studies and community involvement. I graduated Furman in May 2014 with a degree in Religion, and I believe that my background allows for a unique perspective into the lives of patients. I have been wanting to practice medicine since my youth, and I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the USC School of Medicine Greenville to pursue that dream.

Jeanne Petrizzo