Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weighty Issues

I read this article lately and my immediate reaction was to call bullshit. I do not believe for one second that the rising rates of obesity can be blamed on genetics, and furthermore I am getting frustrated with the slow but steady normalization of fat that is happening in North America. I don't mean to be disrespectful to those who are overweight and feel sympathy for them - it is not easy to lose weight. I recognize that there are many emotional, psychological and yes, even genetic, reasons for obesity but at the end of the day, you get fat from taking in more calories than you burn.

Different people burn calories at different rates and with different levels of efficiency. People have different metabolic rates and a wide variety of intestinal flora and bacteria that can all affect how your body deals with additional calories. That being said, it is a basic law of physics that energy must be conserved. It can change forms, which is what happens when people store energy as fat, but it cannot be created. More energy in than out means you put on weight. In order to prevent this, you need to do the opposite, end of story.

I don't believe that people who are overweight or obese should be judged or treated poorly. They are people, just like anyone else and deserve the same respect. At the same time, being overweight or obese is unhealthy and I fear that this fact is being lost in all the attempts being made by society to "accept" overweight people. I am constantly seeing young girls proudly baring their overhanging midriffs and are shocked that they would be proud (and if not proud, accepting enough to show it off) of their excess weight. When did it become cool to be fat!?

I see fat kids all the time who are facing a life of inactivity, low self esteem, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and premature death. This generation is the first generation of young people who may die at an earlier age than their parents because of the epidemic of obesity. Kids have never eaten so badly and done so little physical activity and it is making them sick. It makes me feel sick too.

We need to help young people feel good about themselves, regardless of their weight, but we must not teach them to accept being overweight. It's not okay. It is not okay for them or their lives or their own kids for them to be obese. It isn't okay for any of us to be obese.

There are many reasons why we have gotten here and there are racial issues at play and big food companies and issues of poverty and education and socioeconomic class. I understand the problems with urban design and parental fear and the trouble with an overabundance of low cost, high calorie food. I know that corn is heavily subsidized and that certain people have a propensity towards being heavier. But, at the end of the day, people need to be accountable for the choices they make (and kids need to be protected from the choices their parents make) and accept responsibility for the calories they take in and the the calories they should, but do not, expend.

The Newsweek article is concerning as it perpetuates a growing myth of fiction over fat.


linda said...

I think you have left one thing unsaid, or maybe un-emphasized. Quite honestly I'm not sure how different this is in Canada, but in the U.S. it is nearly impossible (I said nearly) to avoid food that is processed and preservative-laden.

Please understand: I do not eat at McDonald's, I do eat fruit from the farmers' market every day, and I don't eat much meat. And I don't even have sympathy for people who shop at WalMart.

But what I know is that twice in my life I have left the U.S. to live in another country (for two months or more), and twice in my life I have miraculously, effortlessly lost weight. Without trying - without even noticing at first - and definitely without increasing activity. I'm pretty sure I decreased my activity both times, in fact.

Food in the U.S. - everywhere, including slow restaurants and anything shipped from distant farms, but also an item as simple as yogurt - is full of nasty things that the body is not meant to digest. Other countries eat better. We are fat.

Eileen said...

Awesome piece, Caroline. Well said.

There is a dire need to reassess lifestyles and start nipping obesity in the bud at a young age.