Sunday, March 18, 2007

"TOO FAT" - Food, Physical Fitness and Economics in America

July 8, 2006 - Saturday

"TOO FAT" - Food, Physical Fitness and Economics in America

Food, Physical Fitness and Economics in America

America is fat. Statistic after statistic repeats the same refrain. 40%, 50 %, 60% are obese, depending on whom you talk to. We sit around too much, exercise too little, and of course, we eat fatty, fattening, fat enhancing food. Big Macs, Oreos, Pepsi, chips, fries, Supersized. Kids are getting fatter than ever. Fat will kill you, the doctors report on the 10 oclock news in between the commercials for the McRib and Miller Lite. Diets abound: no meat, all meat, juice fasting, meal replacement, appetite suppressants, metabolic uppers, specially calculated body type menus for maximum weight loss for YOU! Exercise equipment, gym memberships, video workouts, the latest exercise craze from Milan, L.A. or Suzanne Somers. An infomercial producers dream. And somehow even all of that wasnt enough to keep Al Roker from stapling his stomach. On and on the media prattles about fat, and we all try to understand where we all stand on Americas giant scale.

But as in life, the scale doesnt tell the whole of the story. Americas problem with weight goes beyond fast food and couch potatoes. Fat is not just about fat; its about economics, politics, media coverage, health care, education and personal values. The battle of the bulge is a struggle for power: over ourselves, over others and over nature herself.

Lets start with economics. Fat is big money for business owners. The foods that make us fat are part of our national identity. Burger franchises and soda companies and beer brewers and snack food producers are so economically prevalent that they sponsor the majority of professional and semi-professional sporting events, as well as sponsoring the music industry, the amusement park industry, and the nightclub industries, to name a few. Gaining weight makes people money. It employs millions of individuals, provides hefty profits to investors, and contributes significant funding to various charitable ventures. A double cheeseburger with a large coke and a Hershey bar could help send a kid to camp, employ an impoverished individual, return a sizeable dividend to the shareholder and keep professional sports on TV. Thats a mouthful.
And treating the illnesses that are brought on by fat makes money, too. For doctors, hospitals, physical therapists, HMOs and of course, the pharmaceutical companies. Arthritis, Diabetes, heart disease are prevalent illnesses associated with obesity with prevalent and costly treatments. The choices of medication for arthritis alone are nearly endless. Heart disease alone earns the medical industry 7 billion dollars a year. The medical cost of treating these long term and chronic diseases is the bread and butter of the medical system.

Losing the weight makes money, too. Weight loss is a 4 billion dollar a year industry. Every new diet or exercise or product makes money. And the medical community and the media put tremendous pressure on us to lose the weight. Seeing your doctor before you begin a workout regimen makes money. Nutritionalist advice, prescription diet drugs, and bariatric surgery make money. And with the massive pressure put on us by the media to be thin, diet entrepreneurs have built in product promotion. When all the celebrities are airbrushed thin, when all of the news shows do specials on new weight loss trends and the latest study on the dangers of obesity, when all the talk shows do segments on weight loss success stories, the diet industry makes more money. No wonder Suzanne Somers did that Thigh master thing.
Americas fat is a huge cash cow feeding an estimated 5 trillion dollars into the economy, that is 33% of the GNP. The people spend money on the products that make them fat, and then spend money on the products that take fat off. If everyone truly started eating healthy and kept off those pesky extra pounds, the American economy would collapse. Perhaps thats is why funding for physical fitness training in schools has been repeatedly cut by local and federal politicians over the past 20 years. Not enough money in the budget they say. But truth be told, statistics show that fat kids become fat adults. Fat adults are good for the economy.

And yet it is harder for a fat person to get equal treatment. Obese individuals are treated differently from thinner folk. Fat prejudice is one of the most allowable forms of prejudice to date. You would never ask a black man to purchase two seats on an airplane because other people were uncomfortable sitting next to him. You would never (openly) turn down a job to a woman because her womanly medical needs would cause a hike in the companys insurance premiums. You would never think an old woman lazy because her medical condition requires a wheelchair. But obese citizens experience all of these things day by day. They are the butt of endless jokes, as children they are more mistreated by their peers than any other demographic, and everything is made for someone half their size. If not it costs twice as much. It seems to me that the battle against fat is really a sinister social machine that chews up our self-confidence, our humanity and spits out money to somebody else.

What if we all just accepted our bodies for what they were? Flesh, with its variations between individuals, with its need for nutrition and physical activity, with its dimples and wrinkles and rolls. With its potential for system failure. What if chunky girls didnt starve themselves to look like Jenifer Aniston, and felt pretty just as they were. If every now and then the Oscar winning actress happened to be fat, if airline and movie seats were bigger for everybody, if schools had workout rooms and taught lifelong fitness. If a Happy Meal came with fruit and vegetables that kids loved. If we accepted that sometimes people die. What if whatever we weighed or looked like we loved our own body and took good care of it for as long as we could and then when it quit working we were allowed to leave this world with dignity and fond remembrance. In a world like that, no one would ever be "too fat".


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