The burden of fitness

I have written a number of times recently about the problem of obesity. It is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed, of course, but my focus has been different. Whereas the fact of being fat is a bad thing from a public stance (and a private stance for those who are, indeed, fat), it is not a moral issue. Where morality does play a role, however, is in the lack of an honest effort to be healthy. I call this the burden of fitness.

The first things which come up when I start making this argument are whining about how I’m not sensitive to how difficult it is to be fat, how hard it is to eat healthy for the poor, and why I think it is okay for me to impose my morality on others. To address them for the nth time (not that most people are interesting in understanding this argument): the burden of fitness one person bears will be different from the burden another person bears. A fat person cannot be expected to run 5 miles with any bit of ease or even regularity. A poor person cannot be expected to eat the best foods possible. They still need to do what is within their power to be as fit as possible, but I fully acknowledge that their power is limited. (None of this, of course, addresses the millions and millions of Americans who are fat and relatively wealthy and/or relatively able.) And on morality, I don’t want to impose my morality on anyone. That doesn’t mean that I can’t hold a moral position on the matter. After all, if it is wrong to intentionally and willingly mistreat a human body, I don’t see why that logic should not apply to one’s own body. The only difference comes when the issue of societal enforcement is addressed. Clearly a person’s autonomy is the biggest factor there.

Now that I have that out of the way, it is because I see people as bearing a burden of fitness that I fully support an effort in Georgia to aggressively go after the issue of childhood obesity:

“Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid,” read graphics of a TV ad in which a young girl tells of how she doesn’t like going to school because she’s bullied over her weight.

It is part of a video and print campaign to combat childhood obesity in Georgia, which has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the nation…

“We needed something that was more arresting and in your face than some of the flowery campaigns out there,” said Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Some people are naturally worried that this will stigmatize fat kids, but I think that worry ought to be secondary. First of all, fat kids are becoming the majority. There is no more “the fat kid” in class. The article has been changed to “a”. Being overweight still brings with it unfortunate mockery, but today’s environment cannot possibly be anything like that of years past. Second, none of the efforts thus far have worked. Coddling fat people and telling them to be proud of their bodies is detrimental not only to them but to society in the form of healthcare costs and lost productivity. We need this new approach.

But let’s not lose sight of things here. As I said, one’s burden of fitness will change under different conditions. That is, context matters. Poor or disabled people bear less of a burden. Children, then, must bear little to no burden, depending on age. They don’t control what food is bought for them, nor should we expect them to be well educated on health or even have great foresight on the matter. That is why this campaign is also targeting parents:

The organization also made a point to specifically target parents. One TV spot shows a child looking miserable and asking his mother “Mom, why am I fat?” His equally overweight mother sighs and looks ashamed.

Good. Adults are to blame for virtually every case of obesity in America. It is their responsibility to do a better job. If that means guilt-tripping them into action, then so be it.

Something has to be done. Even for all the people who don’t see how morality factors into this (not that anyone ever addresses that argument), it cannot be denied that there are important issues at stake here. The nation is on its way to overwhelming healthcare costs, even as we improve our ‘system’. Our productivity has to be impacted. Even our ability to respond to natural disasters is impacted – how much clean up effort can be had from a person carrying an extra 100 pounds? We have to do something to get people moving again. The health of the nation clearly depends upon the health of its citizenry.

Stay with it, PZ

I had the fun of seeing a talk by PZ a few towns over back in 2009. I noticed two things right away. First, the beard really is quite respectable. Second, the guy has quite a few extra pounds. I found this a bit dismaying. He was someone I admired (and simply enjoy now), so it was disappointing to see that he had what was likely a strong moral failing. No, no, I don’t mean being fat. That has nothing to do with morality. I mean not trying to be healthy. For all I know he was on a diet at the time, but even so, no one can doubt that he has spent long periods of time not caring much about his body. I see that as an issue of morality, and I have written about it here. Fortunately, PZ looks to be turning things around:

I don’t make them. But I will lose more weight this year. Out of fear.

I was just at the grocery store, standing in the check-out line, which has become a gauntlet of terror. It’s the magazines.

Today, it was Paula Deen, round-cheeked and grinning, teeth bleached white, eyes like cold blue LEDs, photoshopped into perfectly plasticky plump grandmotherliness — a grandma with the complexion of an irradiated sixteen year old, glowing and sparkling — and she was holding a bowl of livid yellow macaroni and cheese that was bigger than her head. And I said to myself, this is the new face of death. And I said to myself, this is the American face of death, the death of viscid excess, the death that ends not in bones, but a quivering mass of adipocere. And I said to myself, don’t piss yourself, Myers, but that’s goddamn terrifying.

And I thought about buying that magazine and pasting that freakishly leering face on my refrigerator, but decided that placing a potent ward in my kitchen that would cause me to starve to death instead probably wasn’t a good idea.

Good. I hope he stays with it. Losing weight and/or being fit isn’t always easy. I devote a significant amount of my time to picking shit up and putting it back down again. I do enjoy it, but I would lying if I said it was easier than turning on Netflix.

I doubt PZ will read any of this, but if he does I hope he remembers: the keys to fitness are consistency and will. I realize it sounds like some hippie bullshit, but it’s true. A person who exercises irregularly will see minimal benefits, presuming he doesn’t just give up first. It takes a concerted effort – and the payoff for that is always great.

Thought of the day

I’m not saying we should harass fat people, but I am sick and tired of this credence that everyone gives to the idea that it’s okay to not try and be healthy. Don’t “love your body” regardless of what it looks like. Love the effort put forth in trying to be healthy. And if that effort pays off in a great body, then love your body.

A third of babies are fat

And not just in that cute, chubby sort of way.

Almost one-third of 9-month-olds are obese or overweight, as are 34 percent of 2-year-olds, according to the research, which looked at a nationally representative sample of children born in 2001. The study is one of the first to measure weight in the same group of very young children over time, said lead researcher Brian Moss, a sociologist at Wayne State University in Detroit. The results showed that starting out heavy puts kids on a trajectory to stay that way.

“If you were overweight at nine months old, it really kind of sets the stage for you to remain overweight at two years,” Moss told LiveScience.

Michelle Obama’s child nutrition act looks better and better every single day. But maybe we should be listening to the conservatives, no? Perhaps for the WIC program, we could allow mother’s to buy their kids soda and candy. It’s all about liberty! after all, right?

Bad opinion piece from Chicago Tribune

We know Paul LePage’s leadership ability is handicapped when it comes to fighting obesity. And, I think, most people agree that that is a bad thing. We want to fight obesity. A special focus is usually (and rightly) given to obesity in children, but we do care about obesity in adults as well. Moral issues aside (because we ought not make public laws and rules based upon personal morals; instead we ought to seek to act in a way that best accommodates a wide array of morals), obesity costs everyone money. The overweight person with medicare costs us all. And that can be avoided with some exercise and better eating.

That’s one reason I find this opinion piece from the Chicago Tribune so dismaying.

Fellow Americans, we’re fat.

Not all of us, but a lot — more than enough to prod our government into action.

Last month, just days after a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a rise in adult obesity, the Senate approved a $4.5 billion bill to boost child nutrition and improve the quality of school meals. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln hailed the bill’s “common-sense solutions for tackling childhood hunger and obesity.”

It’s a reasonable bill, and might help on the margin. But if Lincoln or anyone else thinks it will solve the broader problem, think again. The Arkansas Democrat and her comrades on Capitol Hill could launch a new Apollo program aimed at obesity and, fellow Americans, we’d still be fat.

Government can do only so much without doing too much. In fact, most of the options for making a difference on, ahem, a large scale would be doing way too much. But like dentists who never tire of hectoring their patients to floss, lawmakers just can’t leave us alone.

Consider, for instance, the periodic proposals to tax junk food and soda pop. Does anyone seriously believe American couch potatoes would suddenly switch from nachos and cola drinks to celery sticks and skim milk? The results are in. After years of obesity task forces, prevention programs, government-funded studies and related “War on Fat” initiatives, waistlines keep expanding.

Kudos to First Lady Michelle Obama for leading a youth exercise class on the White House lawn, but here’s what government fails to understand: Not only are we fat, fellow Americans, but we know that we’re fat. Inexplicably, we accept it. We’ve … forgiven ourselves.

True, some studies show that people view themselves or their children in less-dire shape than the scale indicates. That’s human nature. The latest CDC report on obesity noted that we aren’t fibbing as much as we once did about our size when responding to the agency’s telephone surveys.

It’s a safe bet that most people have no illusions about obesity being on the rise among children, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws and neighbors, not to mention some very conspicuous summertime beach-goers. This is, after all, the same population that sits in its well-worn easy chairs night after night watching “The Biggest Loser.”

We don’t need the government food police to inform us that eating an apple would be healthier than a bag of chips.

We hereby acknowledge the benefits of getting up and moving around a little.

We know being fat is bad for us. And we know it’s not all the fault of farm subsidies, video games, an aging population, growth hormones in the food supply, our love affair with the automobile or the ubiquity of quick-service restaurants.

We get it: Eat less, exercise more.

Doughnuts, no. Ice cream, no. Deep-fried anything, no.

Walking at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes each and every day, yes!

Satisfied? Now mind your own business.

That’s all anyone wants, right? So long as fat people acknowledge their lack of health and that there are ways to remedy their situation, we should all be satisfied. Right? R-right?

The fact is, this is our own business. We make companies tell us what is in their food because it is in the interest of public health. We ban soda from schools because we want to help kids grow into healthy adults. We create food pyramids (flawed as they may unfortunately be) to better educate people so they know how to eat in a healthy way. And this is everyone’s business. Overweight people affect us all, whether through health costs or as being one driving factor in that terrible push to create a new Fenway a decade ago.

Imagine, for those unfortunate to have it in their grocery stores, if SmartOption foods didn’t have nutrition facts. They look and sound so appealing. But a quick look at the nutrition facts and ingredients reveals that it’s a load of garbage. Or, more nationally, imagine if there was enough ignorance for those pro-high fructose corp syrup commercials to slide by uncriticized.

The Chicago Tribune is wrong; we do need regulations and better information so we know what to eat if we want to be healthy. This isn’t about forcing a healthy diet down everyone’s throat (except in the case of children, but good parents have been doing that forever). It’s about creating a wealth of information that is clear and useful.

Immediate update: There actually is an ad for that high fructose corp syrup bullshit on that very page. Good job, Chicago Tribune.

LePage talks where he cannot lead

As I’ve mentioned previously, in order to speak with a relevant voice about obesity in the United States, it is necessary that the speaker is making an honest effort towards health. Republican candidate for Maine governor Paul LePage is clearly not doing that, if anything gaining weight during his campaign of creationism, tea partying, and lies. Of course, as a matter of simple logic, the truth of a statement does not depend upon the credibility of the person saying. If a murderer says murder is wrong, we don’t think he’s somehow incorrect. But LePage is a politician (and nothing but). It’s the effectiveness of his words that matters. Despite this, he’s still impotently spouting off.

LePage said parents and schools need to better educate children on nutrition, but he also linked the problem to Maine’s economy.

“In this state, all we have to do is make this state prosperous, allow Maine families to go from 80 percent of the national average in earnings to 100 percent so they can compete and buy healthy groceries,” he said.

If this all comes down to personal earnings, then why is it that LePage is able to maintain healthy finances but not a healthy lifestyle?

Your kid is a reflection of you

It looks like Huntington, Virginia may be losing its title of most disgusting place in America. The new title holder will be…the rest of America.

A striking new study says almost 1 in 5 American 4-year-olds is obese, and the rate is alarmingly higher among American Indian children, with nearly a third of them obese. Researchers were surprised to see differences by race at so early an age.

Overall, more than half a million 4-year-olds are obese, the study suggests. Obesity is more common in Hispanic and black youngsters, too, but the disparity is most startling in American Indians, whose rate is almost double that of whites.

The lead author said that rate is worrisome among children so young, even in a population at higher risk for obesity because of other health problems and economic disadvantages.

“Economic disadvantages” is the biggest cop-out. It is wholly possible to eat healthy without spending a load of money on food. Beside that, it’s really quite easy for most people to go for a fucking walk, even if they do decide to have that diarrhea-inducing chalupa from Taco Bell.

Dr. Glenn Flores, a pediatrics and public health professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, said the research is an important contribution to studies documenting racial and ethnic disparities in children’s weight.

“The cumulative evidence is alarming because within just a few decades, America will become a ‘minority majority’ nation,” he said. Without interventions, the next generation “will be at very high risk” for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancers, joint diseases and other problems connected with obesity, said Flores, who was not involved in the new research.

The thing is, the numbers released are alarming no matter the ethnicity or race. They are all absurd. No 4 year old should be obese. In fact, no person without an uncontrollable medical condition should be remotely close to obese.

Willingly fat and obese people are immoral monsters. They are willfully throwing away a human life due to laziness. This is hardly any different from being able to prevent a person from being shot in the face but deciding that the re-run of Seinfeld is just too good to pass up. Both instances are wastes of human lives due to being a lazy fuck-up. Overweight people who do not put forth any effort to become healthy and thus save a human life (their own) deserve absolutely no respect. These people should be helped as much as possible until it becomes clear they have no desire to be good individuals. At that point, they deserve all the scorn we would give an attempted murderer. If they die due to their obesity – without ever having attempted a healthy lifestyle – they deserve to be remembered as killers.

Huntington, West Virginia: Most disgusting place in America

Apparently, Huntington, West Virginia is the fattest town in America. And they don’t care.

As a portly woman plodded ahead of him on the sidewalk, the obese mayor of America’s fattest and unhealthiest city explained why health is not a big local issue.

“It doesn’t come up,” said David Felinton, 5-foot-9 and 233 pounds, as he walked toward City Hall one recent morning. “We’ve got a lot of economic challenges here in Huntington. That’s usually the focus.”

I’m really glad the reporter went ahead and did the research for this article. The very next graf:

Huntington’s economy has withered, its poverty rate is worse than the national average, and vagrants haunt a downtown riverfront park. But this city’s financial woes are not nearly as bad as its health.

I guess I shouldn’t expect a town that doesn’t seem to even discuss its horrid weight problem to do well with its economy. Health is one of the most important aspects of life, usually regardless of one’s priorities. By ignoring something so significant, this town has demonstrated its willful stupidity. That stupidity, in addition to America’s existing woes, seems to have spread to its economy. Of course, I say its “willful stupidity” because it seems doubtful one could ignore all the broken chairs, crowded rooms, and cracked sidewalks in such a fat, disgusting town.

This city on the Ohio River is surrounded by Appalachia’s thinly populated hills

This just makes things all the worse. This is hiking country. It doesn’t take much to go for a walk in the hills and mountains (not to mention just around the damn neighborhood). These people are wasting their health when they could truly exploit it to seek out the beauty that is the West Virginia landscape. The overweight residents of this town who plainly do not care about health are doing a disservice to themselves, to their children, and to the rest of their town. It isn’t that they overweight and thus bad. That isn’t true. It’s that they’re overweight and they do not care. That’s morally repugnant behavior. We do not want to treat other humans with such physical (or mental, for the matter) disdain, why would we want to do it to ourselves?