Have Some More Ice Cream!
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’m obese. Not morbidly obese, but I could certainly stand to lose 20 or even 30 pounds. I even know how I could do it: dispense with the daily cocktail (occasionally supplemented by a glass or two of wine); cut down on the pasta; and forgo the almost daily dish of ice cream. Oh, and the cookies too. I already exercise, but I could do a bit more.
So, I know why I’m overweight and how I could lose the excess. Yet, a “guest essay” in the New York Times reported that the world’s top researchers on obesity met at the Royal Society in London and couldn’t agree on anything but one thing: obesity is not a personal failing. This is reassuring to me and my fellow fatties. And it must be more than reassuring to the morbidly obese, many of whom have always claimed that being chubby is simply a result of hormones or even a lifestyle choice.
As it happens, part of our weight problem is related to our relative prosperity. Sugar, once a luxury, is now relatively cheap. We like sweet stuff and can afford to indulge on a daily basis, whereas our ancestors enjoyed it only as a rare treat. The number of jobs where physical labor ate up the calories have also dwindled. Meat was once an occasional luxury. Fast food outlets did not exist; nor did prepared and packaged meals.
I don’t want to go too far into the weeds here, but about 41 percent of Americans are technically obese, defined as have a body mass index (BMI) 30 or higher (have the 60 percent who aren’t obese been vaccinated, or do they just have better self-control?). Morbid obesity starts at a BMI of 40 or more, or 100 pounds above normal weight. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that obesity added $173 billion to our health care costs in 2019, mainly from some kinds of cancer; coronary artery and cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes (with its own litany of problems); and stroke, among others.
While there are some medical and mental conditions that can cause obesity, the majority of overweight people know why they’re chubby and can actually do something about it, despite what the experts might believe. Many of you reading this have gone on diets and lost weight. Others have resumed their former eating habits and put it back on. It would be nice to blame your backsliding on fate, wouldn’t it?
Nowhere in the Times article was any mention of calorie intake and personal choice as a factor in obesity. I think it would be instructive to quote from the author’s (Julia Belluz) concluding paragraph: “Until we see obesity as something that’s been imposed on society, not as something individuals choose (my itals.), the fat shaming, magic hacks and bad policies will continue. Until we stop blaming ourselves and one another and start focusing attention on environments and systems, the global obesity rate will continue its ascent…”
No individual should ever be “shamed” for obesity or anything else for that matter. But what of education? Perhaps I missed it, but I see no concerted public education project to alert people to the dangers of obesity. As a former smoker, I can attest to the effectiveness of the relentless anti-smoking advertising campaigns. In 1965, 43 percent of adults in this country smoked; in 2018, 14 percent. Among young people, the rate went from 27.5 percent to 8.8 percent.
By all means, let’s treat those who have actual medical or mental conditions, but why should the rest of us be left off the hook? Are we really that helpless and hopeless?
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon