So I have just arrived in Houston and to the dismay of my crew — Mark LaGanga, Tom Piccolo, and producer Jack Renaud — I whipped out a little bag of oatmeal and a Ziplock bag of flax seed (apparently good for cholesterol) and ran into the truck stop from where we'll be starting our journey.
Since I'm going to be reporting on the dangers of obesity and unhealthy foods, I have vowed to make it through this entire trip without eating one single French fry, not a bite of a burger, or even my favorite — nachos with hot, dripping cheese and a big glob of sour cream on the side. Not gonna do it.
We're going to be looking at a health issue that may rival smoking. Obesity is becoming a very urgent matter — some say it's a crisis. In the past 15 years, the rate of overweight and obese Americans has soared.
The National Center for Health Statistics says 30 percent of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older — more than 60 million people — are obese! That's insane!
But perhaps more frightening is what's happening to kids. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6-19 years, 16 percent (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight.
There's a really thorough graphic at the CDC's Web site that shows exactly how bad and quickly things have spiraled out of control (try the Power-Point version if you want to be startled).
If you look at that map, well, it's a big part of our route. We'll be driving up the so-called "stroke belt" where the medical complications of obesity are taking a very real toll on the population. These are just some of the diseases and conditions associated with obesity:
We start out tonight on the CBS Evening News at TA Travel Center (alright, it's a truck stop) in Baytown, Texas, a suburb of Houston, which Men's Fitness rates as America's fattest city. I talked with truckers about their lifestyle, and it is terribly difficult for these guys to maintain any type of real fitness. Sitting in the cab for hours on end, then to the truck stop where there aren't a lot of healthy choices — smoking, coffee. TA at least offers soup and salad bars at most of its restaurants, and we met Barry Pawelek, a former trucker who suffered a debilitating stroke. He's now going around staging mini-health fairs at truck stops, trying to wise up his 18-wheel buddies about health and fitness.
As we drive "up the gut" of America (sorry for the pun) we'll look at how race factors affect obesity rates for African-Americans, find out about the so-called "fit but fat" movement (we'll introduce you to a 300 lb. triathlete!) and we'll speak with former President Bill Clinton, perhaps the most famous junk-food junkie of all time, about his campaign to prevent obesity in children.
Hope you'll come along for our ride!