06/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Are We Americans So Fat (Part Two)

The obesity epidemic in our country has many causes. In my last blog I covered the affect of food marketing, particularly to children, and how that contributes to obesity.

Continuing with the work of Dr. Kelly Brownell, from Yale, I'm going to be talking about his concept of "optimal defaults" when it comes to food.

Default food is that which is available to us first, or most easily. Here are some examples of America's current default foods:

High School Lunch

Dorm Food

Hospital Food

Airplane Food

Have you ever tried to find healthy food when you are traveling? Airplane food, airport food, Denny's restaurants, and McDonald's drive thrus, are all examples of default American foods. College campuses, high schools, elementary schools, and hospitals are all places where you have to eat what is served, unless you really planned ahead. Most of these institutions serve unhealthy, cheap food that is filled with fat, sugar and salt.

A close friend of mine had to go to the Mayo Clinic for tests recently. She told me that she could not find healthy food there. Here she was at the Mayo Clinic, because she had an illness, and the food she had to choose from was not healthy, fresh food.

Is it possible to find fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins in our default food systems? Yes, as I have done so, but it is difficult, expensive, and requires extra planning and effort. That kind of takes the default out of it.

The fact that our schools serve unhealthy food to our kids, and that some of our poor kids eat both breakfast and lunch at school, is very sad. I will be covering some fabulous folks who are changing what schools serve and the amazing results in a future blog.

Meanwhile, be aware of the default food in your own house. Do you have fresh fruits and vegetables readily available? Can you grab something healthy when you need something fast? If not, start there. Make sure you have "optimal defaults" at home, where you have the most control.

If part of the problem is cost, and fresh produce costs a lot more than cheap, packaged, processed food, try getting your produce from your local farmer's market. It will be less expensive than the regular supermarket, and grown locally.

We need to think more long term about our future health and the health of our kids. It is much more expensive to be sick than to be well. Most of the poor people in our country have no health insurance. In fact many of the middle class in our country cannot afford health insurance. If you have been laid off and have to pay cobra fees for your health insurance, good luck. The prices are outlandish.

Perhaps one day, with the efforts of people like Dr. Brownell, and the Rudd Center at Yale, we will see a change in how our country is operating. I will be talking about some changes that are already taking place coming up.

In the meantime, do what you can to keep yourself, and your family healthy. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Cook from scratch as much as you can. Avoid processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, fat and salt. Exercise whenever possible and remember, in the immortal words of Jack LaLanne,

"You are the most important person here."

For more information about Dr. Brownell's work please visit

If you'd like to participate in the research for Irene's new book about the process of weight loss, please visit and take the survey.