Columns 2006

America’s obesity obsession

I have spent most of my life fighting the battle of the bulge. I’ve done it for a variety of reasons. When I was young I did it because I was told men did not find “large” women attractive. Since I grew up in an era when it was more important for a woman to earn her MRS than her BS, this became a major issue in my youth.

As I aged, I fought the battle in an attempt to ward off the actual aging process. I come from the generation that said we should trust no one over 30. That made it very difficult to reach 40 and 50 feeling good about myself.  I thought if I could just be thin enough, no one would notice how old I’d gotten.  Needless to say, that didn’t exactly work out as I planned. When fourteen bones in your back creak and crack when you get out of a chair while making that “oof” sound, people know you are not a spring chicken.

My final battle of the bulge came as I entered my “mature” years and developed health problems that were directly affected by weight.  I’m having more success with the battle this time around, probably due to the fact that it is more about surviving long enough to spend my retirement than simply vanity.

All of the above is an attempt at full disclosure for what follows. And that is that America seems obsessed with the issue of obesity with no middle ground tolerated in the discussion.  You either accept that America is getting extremely fat and the collective weight of the next generation’s poundage induced diseases will crush our health care system or you are wrong. 

As always, I find extremism suspect based solely on the fact that extremists are rarely actually dealing with reality. I find truth can usually be found somewhere in the middle ground that most extremists loathe because it does not fit in with their worldview.

And so I watch in amazement as designers create size 0 clothing with the implication being that if you are anything over a size 2, you are fat. There is a commercial on TV for a diet product in which the pitch is that the young lady was able to go from a size 8 to a size 2 in some amazingly short amount of time.

I think in this instance Muslims fundamentalists are more honest in their actions than Americans. They make no bones of the fact that they want their women to disappear and cover them completely from head to toe to achieve that end.

Here in America, we view that action as reprehensible but see nothing wrong in encouraging girls to become a size 0. Either way, the message going out to women is that to be acceptable, you have to be either a cipher totally enveloped in a walking tent or a size 0 which really just says you are a nothing, literally a zero.

I watch in amazement as cupcakes are banned from school birthday parties or any event for children sponsored by anyone who hopes to maintain any sort of good reputation in the kiddie world.  We no longer allow birthday cupcakes, Christmas cookies, Halloween candy or any munchie that isn’t healthy and sugar free. These same children will then go home to households in which at least 50% of the dinners they eat will be take out and of that, most will probably be pizza.  So let’s take a guess as to which will ultimately have a greater effect on the child’s eventual size and eating habits.

I think our kids need to learn good nutrition and good eating habits.  I think that to be effective, that training needs to be backed up by parents who cook healthy meals at home. I think schools should be allowed to treat kids on special holidays with a cookie or cupcake without risking their reputation.  If what the child learns is that if you eat healthy most of the time an occasional treat won’t kill you, then the child will have learned a real life lesson.

But if what we teach our children is that all sweets are forbidden and bad…well, let’s all remember back to our childhoods and how we responded when something became forbidden.  Made it way more attractive, didn’t it?

So let’s leave the extremes and meet in the middle where common sense should prevail.  Our kids need to learn to eat sensibly. They need to understand that neither a size 0 nor a size 22 is healthy but that leaves a lot of room in the middle. 

And for goodness sakes, grab hold of some sanity and let them have cookies at the class Christmas party.