Monday, August 30, 2010

We Should Not Be Sending the Message that It's OK to Be Fat

Obesity is the single biggest health problem in the United States. We spend billions of health care dollars each year on these diseases associated with obesity. However, for whatever reason, we're not taught to treat obesity with the same disdain as smoking.

Smoking is a nasty habit. It makes you look bad. It makes you smell bad. It greatly increases your risk for cancer and heart disease. In addition, second hand smoke can pose a health risk to people who do not smoke. More and more people in this country seem to be in agreement that smoking is a horrible thing, and we should do whatever we can to curb the use of cigarettes.

Now, let's look at obesity...

It's a nasty condition. It makes you considerably less attractive. Obese people tend to sweat a lot at the slightest exertion and thus emanate an unpleasant body odor. Obesity is the probably the greatest risk factor for heart disease and Type II Diabetes. In addition, the notion that one person's obesity isn't something that can affect the health of another person isn't quite correct. If you are in a relationship, if one person gains weight, the other person is also likely to gain weight. In a group of friends, if one friend gains weight, the other friends tend to put on some pounds too.

Obesity and unhealthy eating is probably even more addicting than smoking, but we just don't think of it the same way. Consider this: If someone at your work brings in cupcakes, and everyone else is eating them, you're probably going to eat those cupcakes too. If the people around you always have unhealthy food, you're also much more likely to eat unhealthy.

I can vouch for this stuff first hand. I was never obese or even close to obese, but I used to eat quite unhealthy. My coworkers used to order out for lunch a lot, and that would mean 3 or 4 times a week I was eating french fries, fried sandwiches, milkshakes, etc. Eating this way was the culture of the pharmacy, so everyone participated, and you know what? We all gained weight.

After finally realizing that I valued being healthy and in-shape, I cleaned up my diet quite a bit. I started bringing lunch to work, so whenever someone wanted to order out, I never got anything because I brought my lunch. Seeing me eat lean chicken breast sandwiches on whole wheat every day, and watching me drop 13 pounds while getting into the best shape of my life had an effect on my coworkers. Suddenly, they started bringing their lunches more often. We stopped ordering out. Everyone started losing weight and exercising more, and we all became healthier for it.

As it stands, obesity is part of the culture of the United States. Burgers, fried food, fast food restaurants, ice cream sundaes, cookies, cakes, and brownies. We all view these things as the finer treats in life. Our lives are centered around unhealthy food. It's just a part of our lives now, and we actually think it's unusual when someone tries to eat healthy.

I've actually been ridiculed for my attempts to eat healthy. Does that make any sense? "Why are you going on a diet and doing all this exercise? You don't need to lose weight," many people said. Upon telling a coworker I lost over 10 pounds, she actually told me that I'm supposed to fill out as I get older instead of getting smaller.

Those are just a couple examples of the fucked up way of thinking people have in this country. We're so used to people being overweight, that we think it's highly abnormal for someone to be healthy and fit. Instead of ridiculing the 250 lb guy with his gut hanging well out over his pants for eating that tub of ice cream, we poke fun at the 155 lb guy who refuses the ice cream because he wants to be able to run a sub-6 minute mile well into his thirties. Where's the sense in this?

Why do we tax cigarettes to the point where they cost almost $10 per pack, but unhealthy fast food is usually some of the cheapest food you can find? Those McDonald's cheeseburgers and Oreo Cookies are just as likely to cut your life short as cigarettes, but nobody acts disgusted when you break out a bag of Oreos. You have to be 18 to smoke cigarettes, but you can start cramming donuts down your throat the moment you're old enough to chew.

I can hear the dissenting voices now... "Some junk food every once in a while isn't that bad. It's all about moderation." Of course, my response is that the occasional cigarette isn't that bad either as long as you can keep it on an occasional basis.

"But cigarettes have nicotine, and nicotine is physically addictive!"

Sugar and high fat food is just as physically addicting as cigarettes. In fact, it's probably more addicting. You don't think so? I challenge you to stop eating candy, sweets, and junk food for as long as you can. How long do you think you'll last? A day? Maybe 2 before you break down and have that little piece of chocolate. You'll go through withdrawals, but a different kind than if you tried to quit smoking. You'll have that insatiable craving for something sweet or salty. The craving will be so strong that it messes with your mind. Every time you think of food, you'll crave pizza or a chocolate bar or buffalo wings. You'll have a perfectly edible healthy meal in front of you, but it will taste terrible to you because it doesn't have those bad ingredients you crave. If you stop and think here, you'll realize that you're addicted to that unhealthy food. It's no less of an addiction than smokers to their cigarettes. It's just far more socially acceptable for some reason.

Back to my main premise... Obesity is something that should be looked down upon as much as smoking. We shouldn't be passing along the notion that it's OK to be overweight. We certainly shouldn't be telling people to feel proud and unashamed of their bodies when they're 50+ pounds overweight. Being significantly overweight is literally the worst thing you can do to your body. Fat people take up a far bigger chunk of health care dollars than any other group, and in just about every case, obesity is preventable.

Therefore, I would like to lend my support to any bill or proposed law that would tax the shit out of unhealthy food. People do not have the willpower or the knowledge to stop eating so poorly on their own, and this country does not have a culture that supports a healthy lifestyle. If it takes the government to step in and mandate healthy eating in order to get the incredible number of obese Americans to eat right, get to the gym, and drop a few pants sizes, then that's what we should do. The government's anti-smoking agenda completely changed the nation's view on smoking. I'm sure it could do the same for obesity.


Meghan said...

Some thoughts:
1) Fast food doesn't need to be taxed. Get rid of corn and soybean subsidies and tax deductions for food transportation costs, and you'll see prices for processed food skyrocket. HFCS is the main sweetener and stabilizer in these foods.

2) By getting rid of the subsidies you will encourage farmers to grow a wider variety of foods better suited to their soil and sell them locally (to reduce transportation costs).

3) As it stands right now, taxing unhealthy food would cause more food problems, not less. Some of the fattest people in the this country are the poorest, why? Many poor people do not have access to fresh foods and/or kitchens. Increasing food costs doesn't solve the problem. Lessening the cost of healthy foods (so they are cheaper than unhealthy foods) does. Fresh food costs more, and if you only have 2$ to feed yourself for the day the broccoli is not on the list.

4) Some people require more than exercise and fast food. Children born to mothers whom ate unhealthy food during pregnancy have different genes expressed than those with healthy mothers; this situation gets worse with every generation. Some of these obese kids may never be able to be normal sized due to their now faulty genetics.

5) Take a look at what we feed our kids in daycare centers and schools. Many facilities only allow pre-packaged food to be brought in (liabilities for home cooked food). Potatoes are the main vegetable in schools, soda machines, etc. Also, physical education is being cut left and right. Unhealthy food plus no activity equals fat kids equals fat adults.

I would suggest the books "Stuffed and Starved" and "Fat Land" for anyone who wishes to look at the more in depth reasons for the obesity epidemic. It's more than will power and laziness for people whom live outside of the world of middle class privilege.

Pharmacy Mike said...

I don't really know all the details on taxing or getting rid of subsidies. I'll go along with any reasonable plan that will make people stop eating garbage and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

My point was that the culture of obesity in this country has to change in order to effectively decrease the incidence of obesity.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more.

It's about time the fat, flabby, and flatulent poor people, who eat mostly junk food, start paying their fair share since they don't have any other taxes.

Well said my man.

Maybe all those medicaid Moms will start buying some lettuce instead of Lucky Charms.

Pharmacy Mike said...

Because there are no obese rich people...

2/3 of the nation is overweight, which includes the 1/3 of the nation that is classified as obese.

Being overweight may disproportionately affect the poor more than the rich. However, it is a big problem among all socioeconomic groups in this country.

Nate said...

What drives me crazy are the overweight people who claim to be healthy becasue they exercise a lot. I mean, it's great you do yoga 5x a week and ride your bike 50 miles a week and have normal lipid/glucose levels but you are not doing your heart any favors by requiring to pump blood through the extra 30 pounds of junk you carry around.