I’m Too Fat!
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’m technically obese, which means that I have a body mass index (BMI) above 30. The formula for computing it involves your weight and height, but that would only provide an approximate BMI; a more precise one would need to take into account your percentage of muscle to fat. While I have little excess fat on my legs and arms, I’m sure my tummy would still put me over the magic 30.
In the last year or so, I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I should lose another 20, which would probably get me down below that 30 BMI. On the other hand, I’m consoled by a recent report that said having a little extra weight at my age (84) might have some advantages. And of course I have a good deal of company. We live in the most obese country in the world. Overall, 42.4 percent of us are technically obese.
The percentage of the morbidly obese, with BMIs over 40, is at seven percent and rising (it has doubled in the last 15 years). While this seems a low number, it means that at least 22.5 million of our neighbors are dangerously overweight. It hardly seems necessary to point this out, but excess weight leads to serious health problems — heart attack, stroke, diabetes, kidney failure, cancer, and increased infant mortality, among many others. It’s estimated that caring for them adds $150 billion a year to our healthcare costs.
Although more men than women are overweight, more women (11.5%) than men (6.9%) are morbidly obese. The highest numbers are among African-American women. This is certainly concerning, as is the childhood obesity rate of 19.7 %. But before I get carried away with the statistics, I think we can agree that we have a serious public-health problem, and one that’s getting worse. So where is the urgency in addressing it?
To give some perspective, in 1954, 45% of Americans smoked; in 2020, the percentage had dropped to 12.5. Why? Because of a relentless advertising campaign to educate the public about the true effects of tobacco on the public health, deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and COPD have all declined. That campaign obviously worked and continues to this day.
If you look at the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, obesity can be a contributing cause in all but one or two. Yet where is the kind of public health advertising and public information campaign that was so successful against smoking? I see no evidence that it exists or is even contemplated. Indeed, against all logic, being obese seems to be becoming chic.
(There are, of course, numerus ads for weight-loss products and systems. Notice that they mostly emphasize appearance, not health. How many millions of pounds do people lose and gain back every year? It’s estimated that at least 80 percent of weight lost is gained back.)
We now have performers who actually flaunt their excess weight; they even dress to emphasize their bulges. Overweight models increasingly appear in both print and television advertising, and not – as you might suppose – for weight-loss programs and nostrums. And just the other day, I saw a promo for a new program on WE-TV that will feature morbidly-obese beauty-salon workers who cater to (you guessed it) morbidly-obese customers. It’s as if being obese is a lifestyle choice, like deciding which sex you would rather be.
We are told that it’s blatantly discriminatory to “shame” the obese. But I have to wonder if we have reached the point where public health education has become shameful? If so, why is it not shameful to point out the proven health risks associated with smoking, but not to highlight the very real risks associated with excess weight? No one is advocating yelling “hey fatso” to our obese neighbors, or playing the “Too Fat Polka” at weddings or other events, but simply educating them continuously about the very real health risks (including premature death) associated with those excess pounds. Such a campaign might even encourage me to lose those 20 pounds!
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon