The Obesity Epidemic

Posted on May 14, 2014


When did we start getting so fat? I don’t dare use that word in the title of this column. I would probably lose two-thirds of my readers, maybe more.

I don’t think we can even go into denial on this one.

The respected web site WebMD offered a candid appraisal: “The prognosis for the nation is bad and getting worse as obesity takes its toll on the health of adults and children alike.” People are contracting heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in alarming proportions, all linked to obesity.

obesity in America
So, what’s causing it? Let’s be upfront here, although following the experts: we eat too much and exercise too little.
It’s not genetics. You can’t blame Aunt Betsy or great grandfather Leroy for your eating habits.

“While a person,” notes WebMD, “may have a genetic predisposition toward a certain body type, the fact that each succeeding generation is heavier than the last proves that changes in our environment are playing the key role.” So, it’s not nature, but nurture.
Why do we eat so much? Marion Nestle, an expert, “argues that recommendations about healthy eating are overwhelmed by the hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of advertising for junk foods that we’re subjected to at home and even in public schools. And as fast food companies and chains compete with one another by increasing portion sizes, our waists are increasing proportionately.”
If just looking around you doesn’t prove anything, how about some statistics?
From the Center for Disease Control comes the not unsurprising figure that the percent of adults 20 years and over who are obese is almost 36%, while the percent of adults 20 years and over who are overweight, including obesity is about 69%. That’s over two-thirds of the population in America, and probably two-thirds of my readers are fatties.
There, I’ve said it. But, wait readers. I’m overweight too if one goes by the tables of age, height and the acceptable weight of someone like me. I stand accused and guilty as well. But at least I’m trying to bring all these bad habits under control, and substitute good ones.
Fat people were not always stigmatized over the course of history. Malnutrition and famine were common throughout history, and so having a few extra—or more—pounds on was considered a virtue, something to guard against and protect you from the usual failures of the food supplies.
The fleshy, not to say chubby, feminine fatales of Peter Paul Rubens are famous in art circles. Rubens’s ladies were, if nothing else, well protected from immediate food shortages.
To be corpulent was often reflected as a sign of power, affluence and influence, and so many American presidents were fatties. Santa Claus has not trimmed down yet, his portly figure a sign of a lovable, cheery, and happy soul.
But modern food science, beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and blooming in the twentieth century, changed the eating habits of Americans, and of global civilization as well, although when I travel to Honduras each summer on a short mission trip, I don’t see a lot of fat Hondurans. So, eating, fat, and obesity also tend to be associated with growing affluence among a people, like us.
What got my attention and prompted this column was a television ad I saw a few weeks ago. All the women in the ad were overweight. They were not unattractive women, but the message was not even subliminal: we are a fat people and so the ad gurus are pitching their sales to fat people.
This is a column I should probably never be writing. How many columnists, local, regional, or national, step into this pile of doo doo? You don’t see George Wills and Kathleen Parker doing this. That’s because they’re politically smart and journalistically savvy. I’m neither, so here is my parting remark.
Even my dogs are being pandered to! I always get them cans of moist food to add to their daily ration of dry food. That’s their treat, although I spoil them other ways also. I noticed that the old size of cans are now competing on the shelves with cans at least a half size larger than the old norm. Give the old boy something to feed on man.
Obesity is a cultural and medical epidemic, make no mistake about it. So, stop eating so much and buy yourself some good walking shoes and hit the road. You have nothing to lose but your weight, and regain your health and dignity. Substitute one good habit for one bad habit on a monthly basis until you get on the right road.

And maybe I’ll see you out there walking.

This column published as The Obesity Epidemic is Spreading in my column The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday May 11, 2014

Posted in: Life in America