How often do you read the labels of the tomato sauce or bag of tortillas you are about to put into your shopping cart? If you drink soda, do you think or care about how much sugar is added to the drink you are about to consume? When eating out, how often have you known how much added sugar or salt is in that taco you just enjoyed? If you are reading this article, you already know about our nation’s health challenge. You might even know this challenge is largely the result of what we eat and drink daily.

Have you ever wondered why you like one brand of spaghetti sauce better than the other? It has less to do with the advertisement. It has more to do with added sugar and salt. Check it out for yourself. The next time you are in the grocery store, spend a few minutes comparing two things on the labels of your favorite sauce or cereal -- sugar and sodium(salt). Even brands advertised as healthy and organic can have unhealthy amounts of added sugar and sodium.

Our ancestors’ role in today’s health epidemic

Through a plethora of research and a good look at profit margins, the food and beverage industry determined that adding more sugar and salt to products increased market share simply because our brains are wired to prefer added sugar and sodium. Centuries ago, when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, finding extra sugar and sodium could mean a difference of life and death. Today, our brains are still wired to see these empty calories as a survival mechanism. This biological fact, combined with the fact that we are a country of consumers, means what used to be small amounts of extra sugar, salt and fat as life saving, has become a gluttony of life restricting. Our bodies as it turns out, are also unable to process all of this excess.

The result of this is a national epidemic of obesity and the health consequences associated with it. Obesity doesn’t just lead to a larger waistline. It leads to heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and even some cancers. Very similarly to the way we continue to fight the tobacco industry over its cancer-causing products, we find ourselves now fighting the food industry over some of its obesity-causing products. There is a shift happening -- so much so that the three largest beverage producers have a new campaign with a stated goal of reducing their beverage calories by 20 percent by 2025. If you think about it, if there’s already eight to ten sugar packs in each can of that full-calorie beverage (, will the industry goal really be enough to make a relevant difference?

There’s a pill for that

We are living in a time and now support a medical community that offers a prescription for almost everything that limits your longevity. The thought mentality oftentimes is taking a prescription drug to cure a chronic health condition is preferred because it is an easier regimen to follow as opposed to changing your lifestyle to fight chronic disease. Your doctor might even support this strategy. This is an age of “ask your doctor” for a pill to make you not have to change your diet or lifestyle. It turns out it is not working for the majority of your neighbors.

Proof of this can be found in your living room, on your television. You might not have noticed that the majority of commercials on television these days focus on health conditions, and the solution is brought to you by the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies and your local pharmacy are all benefiting from the reality that one out of two (50 percent) people you know will be diagnosed with at least one health challenge -- diabetes and/or hypertension. Both of these conditions are considered chronic, which, in layman’s terms, means they don’t go away.

Get Healthy Lodi

Lodi is at a tipping point, and a growing number of its citizens want healthier lifestyle choices and strategies. How would you like to live longer and have a better quality of life? There is a movement spearheaded by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce that is a community game changer. The Healthy Lodi Initiative is an Alliance of businesses and healthcare providers who are supporting those who have decided to take local healthy lifestyle options into their own hands. If you visited the Street Faire a few Sundays ago and went to purchase a soda from the Chamber of Commerce drink station, you might have experienced one such healthy choice opportunity.

The Healthy Lodi Initiative is aligning and working with community health and lifestyle resources, grocery stores, healthcare providers and soon your local and chain restaurants. The goal is to create easy ways help you identify options and strategies that will support you and your neighbors who have decided to make the changes that will help achieve personal health and lifestyle goals. Join us!

J. Mark Hamilton is a lifelong healthcare technology sales leader. He has worked around the country leveraging technology initiatives that support community health and lifestyle improvements. He joined the Lodi Chamber of Commerce Vision 2020 Health-VAT leadership team as a volunteer in 2012. Mark is a member of the Lodi Tokay Rotary Club, and served on the City of Lodi Arts and Parks and Recreation Commissions. He is an active member of the Lodi Chamber’s Partners in Education task force.