obesity

The Obesity “Epidemic”

So Michelle Obama is launching the Let’s Move Campaign to eliminate the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.  “[O]ne in three kids are overweight or obese, and we’re spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there’s a lot at stake.”  (Source)

I applaud the idea of encouraging health.  I do karate 2-3 times each week, and do eight-mile stints on the exercise bike when I can.  My daughter does karate and soccer.  My son does a nightly marathon running laps in our living room.

Yet I’m troubled by this initiative.  I’ve visited four elementary schools this year, and spoken to hundreds of young kids.  Most looked healthy to me.  I saw no difference between these classes and my own a quarter of a century ago.  But the Let’s Move site claims that obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.

Interesting…  The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a commonly used tool for classifying individuals as underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese.  You know what doesn’t get mentioned very often?  In 1998, the BMI was changed, reducing the threshold for someone to be considered overweight or obese.  From a 1998 CNN report:

Millions of Americans became “fat” Wednesday — even if they didn’t gain a pound — as the federal government adopted a controversial method for determining who is considered overweight.

(ETA: Slate has a more recent article on the history of the BMI.  Thanks to alcymyst for the link.)

You know what?  I think I’m going to redefine the I.Q. scale so that anyone with an I.Q. under 130 is considered an idiot.  Voila!  I’ve just uncovered this country’s epidemic of stupidity.

You want to see what overweight looks like these days?  According to the BMI, given my height and weight, I’m officially overweight.  I didn’t retouch the photos at all, except to remove a few red dots on the belly from the insulin pump.  (Okay, I also Photoshopped out a chest pimple.  So sue me.)

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Screw You, Death Clock! Signed, Fat Jim

So I was killing time, following a link from Michael Brotherton to the Death Clock, which supposedly predicts how much time you have left. Apparently I’m going to die in 2048. (At my current rate, this means I should be able to churn out about between 30 and 40 more books.  Yay!)

Anyway, I know this is just as reliable as any other online quiz, but what stuck with me was the basis for the prediction: 

1) I don’t smoke.
2) I’m 5’7″ and 161 lbs.

This, along with my gender and birth date, is the total data collected by the site*.  #1 is the “healthy” answer, but according to the site, #2 means I’m overweight and heading for an earlier grave.

Screw you, Death Clock. Screw you and your “Lethal Danger of Being Fat.”

Of course, deathclock.com is owned by Life Extension, a site whose front page is plastered with ads for vitamins, supplements, and — you guessed it — weight loss products. It’s a brilliant industry. Make people feel like crap, then promise them they can be skinny and happy again, and isn’t that worth an obscene amount of money? Of course they want to warn me of the deadly dangers of being 161 pounds. How else can they convince me to rush out and send them all my cash?

I do understand that obesity can have an adverse effect on your health.  Yes, I’ve heard that we have an increasing trend toward obesity in this country (though you wouldn’t know it wandering down to my daughter’s school and glancing at the kids).  Heck, I’ll even admit I’m in much worse shape these days than I used to be.  More exercise would be a very good thing.  But overweight?  Give me a freaking break.

I am so sick of my country’s attitude toward weight.  We don’t give a damn whether you’re healthy.  We care about whether you’re “pretty”.  And if you’re not?  If you’re heavy?  Congratulations, you’re a 21st century leper, and the rest of us can feel free to mock you and look down on you, because it’s your own fault.  Because you made yourself unhealthy.  You did choose to be fat, didn’t you? So by reminding you how fat you are, by making sure you know exactly how grotesque the rest of us think you are, I’m helping you!  I’m motivating you to get past your unhealthy habits and become healthy!  Because if you didn’t want to be fat, you wouldn’t be.

If that was the way things worked, I should weigh about 300 pounds.  Tonight I’ll eat almost an entire large pizza for dinner.  Healthy?  Definitely not.  But I was fortunate enough to be born with my mother’s metabolism.  I can hit the ice cream for a snack before bed, and I’ll still be 161 pounds at my next checkup.  I know people who eat far healthier than I do, exercise daily, and they’re still heavier than me.  Their bodies simply won’t lose the weight. But it’s so much easier to assume fat people are all lazy slobs gorging themselves on ice cream every night.

If it was really about health, we wouldn’t have diabetics deliberately going off insulin so their bodies would cannibalize themselves for fuel.  It’s effective — I lost about 30 pounds that way when I was first diagnosed.  It’s also toxic and potentially deadly.  But hey, better dead than fat, right?

I’m sick of it.  You don’t even want to know how young my daughter was the first time she came to us worried about her weight. And don’t get me started on the ever-popular Hollywood “Fat = Funny!” formula.

There are some seriously beautiful people out there who would be labeled heavy or even obese. I don’t mean that feel-good “Everyone’s pretty on the inside” stuff. I’m talking about Garcia from Criminal Minds being one of the hottest characters on TV. I’m talking pure, physical, completely shallow sexiness.

As a kid growing up, I couldn’t see that.  I was an idiot. As I can’t go back in time and kick my own ass, I’ll settle for venting on the blog.

Be beautiful.  Be healthy.  The rest of it can go to hell.

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*I forgot that they also ask if you’re optimistic or pessemistic, and yes, I recognize that the site gives a lot of emphasis to your attitude. Which doesn’t change the fact that their numbers label me overweight and then present me with nothing at all about attitude, but a nice little treatise about how being heavy is LETHALLY DANGEROUS!!!

Jim C. Hines