Good on you, Kenneth Krause

The man who wrote a letter to news reporter Jennifer Livingston about her excessive weight has made him name public: Kenneth Krause. I believe he may have done this a few days ago, but I just saw a discussion of this on CNN. Here is an interview Krause gave:

I’ve seen some small spin here and there with what Krause said, so let me set the record straight: He apologized for offending Livingston, not for his letter. In fact, shortly after his letter, he wrote this:

Given this country’s present epidemic of obesity and the many truly horrible diseases related thereto, and considering Jennifer Livingston’s fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year, and, to that end, I would be absolutely pleased to offer Jennifer any advice or support she would be willing to accept.

I’m glad that Krause not only made himself public but that he has stood by what he said. With the growing number of fat people in America, his position is not a popular one. It’s good to see him sticking by his principles. It was also good to see him address the notion that he is a bully (see video). Of course he isn’t one. In fact, let’s look at what it would mean if he was one:

Livingston used the letter to emphasize October as National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, an annual campaign launched by non-profit The PACER Center in 2006 to raise awareness about the dangers of bullying. On its website, the organization defines bullying as intentional behavior “that hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally,” in which the targets “have difficulty stopping the behavior directed at them and struggle to defend themselves.”

Did the popular local media figure have trouble defending herself? Were four minutes of air time not enough for her to mount her case? Did she experience any difficulty in stopping the barrage of…one…email to her inbox? I think it’s clear that anyone with any common sense can see that it is absolutely ludicrous to claim that this adult woman was at all bullied. Moreover, given Krause’s demeanor and reaction to everything, I think it’s pretty clear he was being sincere in his desire to see Livingston improve her health.

Good on you, Kenneth Krause.

Update: Apparently the news station identified Krause. To his credit, he didn’t hide from TV cameras when approached and he has given statements that stand by his letter. However, to the discredit of the station, they made it a point to publicly demean and humiliate this guy. I’m not willing to call their actions bullying, but they are definitely far closer than Krause to fitting the definition of what that means.

NYC approves soda ban

I’ve been bothered over the past several months by people who have been claiming that NYC has had soft drinks over a certain size outlawed for some time now. That just hasn’t been true. [/rant] Now a ban has been put in place:

New York City passed the first U.S. ban of oversized sugary drinks on Thursday in its latest controversial step to reduce obesity and its deadly complications in a nation with a weight problem.

By an 8-0 vote with one abstention, the mayoral-appointed city health board outlawed sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces nearly everywhere they are sold, except groceries and convenience stores. Violators of the ban, which does not include diet sodas, face a $200 fine.

Opponents, who cast the issue as an infringement on personal freedom and called Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed the ban in May, an overbearing nanny, vowed to continue their fight. They may go to court in the hopes of blocking or overturning the measure before it takes effect in March.

When I first heard about this, I figured it was a publicity stunt – the desired publicity being to draw attention to the obesity problem. I didn’t think anyone would follow through with this, but here we are. So that said, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m all for calories being listed on menus (because informed consumption is important), but I’m not entirely convinced this will make any difference in fighting obesity. I see people buying their oversized drinks elsewhere, such as in grocery stores where they are still legal. Alternatively, businesses may just offer free refills more often. One thing, however, of which I am convinced is that this lady is wrong:

“It’s sad that the board wants to limit our choices,” Liz Berman, a business owner and chairwoman of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, a beverage industry-sponsored group, said in a statement. “We are smart enough to make our own decisions about what to eat and drink.”

Perhaps people should be allowed to buy what they want, but it’s absolutely clear that most Americans are not smart enough to make their own decisions about what to eat and drink.

The military war on obesity

Now here’s a war I can support:

The Pentagon spends more than $1 billion a year on medical care relating to weight and obesity. And America’s growing weight problem means finding new troops fit enough to fight has never been more challenging.

Army recruiter Sgt. Laura Peterson says America’s growing waistline is shrinking the pool of those qualified to serve.

“I’ve definitely seen the problem getting worse,” she said. “The population has gotten bigger. They don’t move as much.”

Among 17- to 24-year-olds, 27 percent are too overweight for military service. Over the past 50 years, the number of women considered ineligible due to weight has tripled, and the number of men has doubled, officials say.

Retired Rear Adm. James Barnett has said of obesity, “(It’s) not just a major health issue for our nation; it’s also become a national security issue.”

I was tickled pink when I first heard this story even though it was just a small piece I had caught in passing. Now that I’ve had the chance to read a full article, I’m even happier because of the big name they have involved:

And these days, it’s a battle the military is taking up. Teaming up with more than 300 of his colleagues, Barnett is fighting the war against obesity with a powerful ally: first lady Michelle Obama.

In February, Mrs. Obama announced sweeping changes to improve nutrition standards for 1.5 million troops and 1,100 military dining facilities across the country.

The Army now requires nutrition education as part of its basic training.

Barnett said, “When you talk about nutrition, you talk about healthy bodies, but you also talk about healthy minds. Nutrition affects strong bodies, strong minds. We need both.”

Military officials monitor soldiers to make sure they’re fit enough to fight on a consistent basis. Recruits who can’t keep the weight off may be kicked out of service.

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t inherently support the troops. I just can’t make myself become another mindless, ‘patriotic’ goof who falls for such obvious propaganda. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a certain respect for service members. I recognize that there are many parts of the military that are physically demanding – I respect that. (In fact, I’ve always been interested in the idea of doing basic training merely for the sake of doing it.) I like and value fitness, so when presented with something which has always been associated with high physical rigor, how can I not appreciate it? Well, as it turns out, it’s pretty easy to not appreciate a mass of people who have became masses in their own, individual rights. A billion dollars a year? Come on.

Now excuse me while I actually leave for the gym right now.

Colorado considering trans-fat ban in schools

I hope they follow through:

The nation’s leanest state is taking aim at junk food in school cafeterias as it considers the nation’s toughest school trans-fat ban.

A Colorado House committee was scheduled to hear a bill Thursday to forbid any trans-fat in school food — not just the food served through regular cafeteria lunches.

That would mean vending machines, after-school bake sales and popular “a la carte” items on lunch lines such as ice creams or pizza would have to be produced without artery-clogging trans fats.

This would constitute one of the broadest bans in the nation. I fully support it. There is no reason we should be practically trying to produce unhealthy children. It isn’t merely the improvement of their minds that should be our concern.

Colorado has a decent track history of creating good public healthy policies. It also is usually in the top ten in income, so when that is coupled with its expansive outdoor recreational options, the results are generally positive. For instance, as the article states, Colorado is the “leanest” state in the Union. It still has an incredible 19% obesity rate, but this is pretty decent by American standards. (When looking at other health factors, New England tends to dominate the positive ranks.)

I hope to see more aggressive steps by Colorado in the future. It isn’t a polarized state in the eyes of the nation like a Mississippi or a California is, so it has a real chance to be a leader in health.

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.

Food Revolution

I just watched an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. It’s basically about this health food chef who goes around to schools in America to try and make a difference in what kids are eating. He started out in Huntington, West Virginia in the first season and apparently made a positive difference there – despite the resistance.

I didn’t see that first season due to my general boycott of shitty network television, but I did catch Oliver in an interview with Jon Stewart recently and I really liked what I saw. Since then I’ve added the show to my DVR recordings and watched the first episode of season 2 just tonight. The editing and format is a little bit all over the place, but the episode had some important information. Of course there were the staggering statistics of what kids eat every day/week/year in sugar/fat/pure feces, but there was also the fact that the L.A. school system will not allow the show to film in a single school. They claim they’re doing well and have nothing to hide, but a 2006 study says otherwise:

To determine the prevalence and identify demographic and socioeconomic correlates of childhood overweight, we assessed height and weight data on 281,630 Los Angeles County, CA, public school students collected during school-based physical fitness testing in 2001. Overweight prevalence was 20.6% overall and varied by race/ethnicity: 25.2% among Latinos, 20.0% among Pacific Islanders, 19.4% among blacks, 17.6% among American Indians, 13.0% among whites, and 11.9% among Asians. By using multilevel analysis, we found that school-level percentage of students enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs was independently associated with overweight, after controlling for school-level median household income and student-level demographic characteristics.

I suspect there is a combination of stubbornness and special interests involved here. Companies make a lot of money off selling shitty food to kids, so it isn’t going to be easy to fix the epidemic. But it’s all the more distressing when the 2nd largest school district in the nation won’t even bother to acknowledge the problem.