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.)

Not the most flattering photo, but ah well.  This is what “overweight” looks like.  I’m part of the epidemic of overweight and obese Americans.  Could I stand to lose a few pounds?  Probably.  I’m 36, and about ten pounds heavier than when I was in my twenties.  I’m also in damn good health, with the exception of the diabetes.  (You can visit Kate Harding’s BMI Illustrated project for more photos like this.)

Our culture has some seriously messed-up ideas of physical beauty.  If we really want to improve our physical health, we need to work on the mental.  Stop demonizing people for being overweight.  Stop the fear tactics.  Stop talking about numbers with no context or references.  Stop insisting that everyone must be skinny, and start working to help everyone be healthy.

From reading through Obama’s campaign, there are a lot of good ideas there.  I just wish they weren’t tainted by the same tired, messed-up rhetoric.