I struggled writing about this topic simply because I think there is a fine line between pointing out facts and obvious health issues and simply coming across as mean-spirited and unkind. And if you have ever read any of my other rants on this topic you know my war is against fat, not fat people. If this comes across that way, I apologize in advance…not really because this is a big issue (pun intended)!
I spent last Saturday attending a school function for my youngest daughter. As I sat watching the performances of the different schools it was very apparent to me that well over a third of the kids participating, mostly girls, were well beyond the range that would be considered obese. Here is where the fine line starts appearing, pay attention. I am very happy to see kids with huge self confidence. It takes a lot of courage to perform these dance and marching moves in front of these large crowds (pun not intended there). So, I am thoroughly impressed at that fact. What is disturbing is that they seem very caviler to the fact that they are in such an unhealthy state. Now, I don’t care what any person, expert, Doctor, whatever says. Being obese, not just over-weight (there is a difference – Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. ) is unhealthy at any age, let alone adolescence.
What is the line between teaching positive body image feelings in kids, and teaching them that
being healthy is the right and better way to live. I like to people watch at these events and the food lessons the kids followed were not just their own, but examples from their families. I saw the parents, and it was apparent these kids were following exactly in their footsteps. Granted, these events are not gourmet food type occasions and items are limited, but it seemed to me folks for almost manic about getting as much of this junk into their bodies as fast as they could. I enjoy a greasy frozen burger now and then myself, but to be double fisting a corn dog and a large soda, and then have a basket on your walker holding your chips and candy…I don’t know. It seemed wrong.
The real sadness was seeing the parents and grand parents that were debilitated in some way because of their size. I am sure other medical issues have arisen and compounded their individual situations but on the surface, fat was the issue. Walkers, wheelchairs, canes…how much of these could be eliminated form their lives had they chosen to stay fitter and healthier? I am not referring to the elderly here either. These are my peers, 30-50 year old folks, limping, waddling, needing help up and down stairs, looking for the spot that had two bleacher seats open so they could sit down.
I know I am sounding harsh, I mean to and I don’t. I don’t want to to hurt feelings or anger anyone, I want to awaken people to the fact that there needs to be changes or we will continue to get fatter as a people and a nation.
Here is an article that can speak better to it than I. One point being that in 2005, nine years ago, the U.S. was estimated to have spent $190 billion on obesity related expenses. I know we could spend that in a better way. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-consequences/economic/
I want to share a few facts on childhood obesity from http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/obesity/facts.htm and then I will continue my rant.
- Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
- The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
- In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
- Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.
- Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.
- Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
Long-term health effects:
- Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults11-14 and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.
- Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I asked a friend of mine who is a school administrator how they viewed this crisis and what they did in the schools to address this…if anything. He told me that the bottom line is despite the programs they put in place, and his school has a ton of activity and health related things they have the kids engaged in, it has to start in the home. Young kids can’t and won’t regulate their own eating. If the parents are poor examples the kids will follow suit. I paraphrased some but that was the crux of his comments.
So where do we start? The kids are out there performing, smiling, full of confidence as they are wrapped in their leotards and body suits that were not flattering, some almost seemed cruel to have put them in. Do we risk that “fat-shaming” consequence? How do we get through to the parents that donuts, and soda are killing their kids slowly? How do we manage not pushing kids too far and creating ancillary issues we didn’t intend. I know as a parent, the last thing I want for my girls is to create unintended difficulty in their lives (as opposed to the intended difficulties I get to impose just because I am the dad! Yay me!)
As a Previously Fat Guy, I remember clearly when I was at my heaviest, asking the doctor for help. I knew I was fat. I knew my clothes didn’t fit and I knew it embarrassed my family at times. I saw three different doctors over a period of a few years and not one of them ever advocated changing my diet or exercise. They all started with prescribing pills for high blood pressure and acid reflux. There is something wrong with that. If doctors are not on board to help combat this, how can we expect society to follow suit? Bottom line was that I wasn’t ready to change. I can say that is true for most of these adults I saw. But what about the kids? My school administrator friend is right, kids won’t regulate themselves. They don’t know better yet. As kids they do, say, and follow what we, the responsible adults, direct them to. If your mom and dad say eating a box of cookies in one sitting is ok, then, that’s what they do.
Science tells us pretty clearly the patterns of unhealthy behavior and the consequences of not changing bad habits. Processed food have become the bane of the nutritional industry. All of the candy, junk, soda, I could go on forever…all of it is overwhelming and easy to get a hold of. Ease and affordability of this garbage makes changing these habits very difficult. It is a sad state of affairs. I had a doctor friend of mine outline a few things that make people gain weight and struggle to drop it. Medicines, genetic issues, medical issues etc. All valid points but certainly not the majority of the people suffering.
Recently I traveled to Orlando for the Swamp House Half Marathon (see previous blog post), I sent a text to my friend Tony as I was sitting at the gate as to how many people getting on the plane were of the obese category. It was crazy. I started to panic because there was a very strong possibility that I was going to be stuck (literally) next to one of these folks. I think airlines should start considering an oversized belly as the allowed carryon item! And to boot, I got to hear how the airlines were too cheap to accommodate larger people. What!!?? Granted, airline seats were built for people the size of Old Navy mannequins, we all know this, but come on. And this is part of my point. It is not comfortable being too big. I know, I was that guy. Why wouldn’t you want to makes changes, if for nothing else, comfort!
So did I cross the fine line? Maybe. In my opinion I would rather bring light to this than not. I believe in the long run that personal example will be the most powerful weapon in this battle. I see so many people struggle with this as adults that it breaks my heart to see youth become embroiled in the issue, more disturbing is the fact that kids are seemingly accepting this as a new norm. Again, I am elated to see these kids with confidence, inclusion, and from all appearances, well-adjusted socially. But, there has to be way to get this point across in a healthy, tactful, engaging way. I am open to suggestions. The food industry doesn’t help, America is a tremendously obese country. Healthy, fit examples are rare. I see as much “fit-shaming” as I do “fat-shaming”. And that in itself is part of the bigger issue. Should I feel bad for making good choices and being healthier?
I can only imagine that regardless of any political correctness…being less fat, and fat is the enemy here, is and will always be the healthier option. Nobody can convince me otherwise, and I don’t believe anyone suffering from morbid obesity and all the nonsense that’s comes along with it is truly happy with their state of health at the end of the day. I just don’t.
Previously Fat Guy
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