Sunday, September 10, 2017

Why ARE we so fat?

Every time you check the health news you hear something else connected to how we in America, and really all over the world, are turning into big fat blobs. The news is usually delivered to us by a healthy, skinny person who is either disgusted by our blubber or is just saddened by the whole thing.

Most of the news is about the consequences of being a nation of Two-Ton Tonys and Tanyas -- diabetes, heart disease, broken furniture, etc. But sometimes they like to ask the question: Why are all you people so damned fat, anyway?

fat suit
When we go to get our shoes shined, we gotta take their word.

So, why are we?

The answers usually come in two forms:

1) We're too dumb to know how much we're eating, too lazy to cook for ourselves, too useless to roll off the sofa and do a dad-blasted push-up.

2) Evil food corporations are filling us full of bad, fattening food, larding up their wallets while they lard up our waistlines.

You notice that neither of these forms speak well of us, and the second casts the usual dark cloud over our captains of industry as well. This is a dark world, says the news media. Dark and stupid and fat.

Here are some specific culprits I have seen blamed many times:

We're too rich -- In past eras only the wealthy could afford to be chubs. Sugar was pricey. Now we're so rich, everyone can be a blubber butt! For the first time in human history, our poor people are fatter than our wealthy people!

We're too stressed --  No one has time to go to the gym, make a healthy meal, take up a sport. We're never off duty and we have to grab our meals as we can.

We're too convenienced -- We don't walk anywhere if we can avoid it; we drive. We don't swing an ax; we pull the cord on the chain saw. We don't push the lawn mower; we ride it. We don't wring our laundry; we let the washing machine do it. We don't have to get out of the chair to look something up in the encyclopedia; we use our phone. We're like the Earth refuges in Wall-E. It's amazing we can even take a dump on our own anymore.

We're too easily led -- The moment we see a Carl Jr.'s advertisement we go running out to get a hamburger the size of our head. Restaurants compete by giving us ever-larger servings and we eat it all because it's there.

We're mentally screwed over by poisons -- High-fructose corn syrup makes us crave sugar; artificial sweeteners make us crave sugar; sugar makes us crave more sugar -- we are just slaves to our stupid brain impulses, triggered by chemicals, with no will of our own.

My take is: Who knows? Maybe it's a combination of all this stuff. I can tell you that obesity is not just something we invented last week. Health sanitariums (like Battle Creek), promoting high fiber and low fat, are Victorian era stuff. Weight Watchers is 54 years old. The famous 1928 "Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet" campaign for Lucky Strike was a co-opt of an 1891 campaign to "Reach for a Vegetable instead of a Sweet" (Pinkham's Vegetable Compound).  

But I would also add a couple of other things to the mix, things that may be specific to our culture as it is now.

1) No one likes being lectured. Healthy people are seen not just as health nuts but as abrasive scolds. The rest of us may see fitness as a desirable state, but not a state of grace. Condescension makes us irritable. And sorry, Kale Gals, we don't believe you are purely motivated by our welfare. You're either looking to being the next big weight-loss guru, or you think the government should pay for everyone's healthcare and you don't see why my Twinkie diet should (ergo) cost you money, or you're just disgusted by all the sweaty whales you have to endure every day. Nannyism is not just anti-freedom, it's annoying as hell.

2) We really don't move enough anymore and that's only going to get worse. Our forebears used up calories just doing the dumbest things -- going to the store, beating the rugs, going to the can, hitching old Dobbin to the shay -- they didn't have to go to spinning classes.

3) Conquest of disease helps us live longer, and fat often comes with age, For hormonal reasons, lack of activity due to pain, and other reasons, people tend to put on weight as they age. Since many folks who would have died young in 1917 from infection or measles or the like, have lived to be old, they've skewed the population fatter.

4) When more people are fat, it's easier to be fat. This is pretty important -- people will tend to self-regulate appetites to remain in the good graces of their peers. When everyone's fat, it makes it safe to get fat. Fat parents have fat children; when half the class is fat there's little impetus for the other kids to stay slim. Herd immunity to shaming, I guess.

5) We don't believe in anything and we have no will to live. Um...

The last one is the one that scares me. I really see the main problem with our health and weight as being connected to our largest problem, that we in the West have lost all cultural confidence and are devolving into smaller and smaller tribes of angrier and angrier nutcases. We are the bulwark of civilization, but we don't believe it and we don't care. So why not have dessert? Why get up early and go running? So maybe I can drop one pant size after months of effort? So I can live another five years at the old, rotten end of my life? So I can live to see the wedding of my child whom I never bothered to have? So I can be more spiritually enriched by denying my appetites and get closer to the God I do not believe in? Never mind. Pass the gravy. Maybe I can pour enough to fill that hole in my soul.

Our obesity crisis can only end if we become connected to and confident in our culture, in my opinion, and learn to want to live again. We need belief in things bigger than ourselves, not gimcrack self-esteem like some life participation trophy. People who believe in themselves and their community want to live, but how may of us fit that description now? All the cheerleaders with all the kale pompoms in the world won't make a difference if we don't care about ourselves or anything else. And being fat is the least of our problems then.

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