Last week, President Obama announced during the State of the Union Address that his wife would be taking up an initiative to address childhood obesity in the U.S. We now have, what we might assume, is a rough outline of where the First Lady will be taking this initiative. Like most things there is good and there is bad. First the good-
"Many parents tell me that they want
to prepare healthy food for their kids,
but there aren't any supermarkets
where they live that sell fresh produce.
Or they're tight on money, and healthy
foods seem too expensive. Or they're
tight on time - working longer hours, working
two jobs - so they can't pull off those
homecooked meals around the dinner table."
-As good as it is to see that the First Lady is aware of the fact that most people don't have the time, money, or energy to pursue the acceptable body size / shape that the fashion industry, Hollywierd, media, and puritanical fatophobes insist everyone should have, I'm going to have to hold my applause. Why? This-
"Obesity is also one of the biggest threats
to the American economy. If we continue
on our current path, in ten years, nearly
50 percent of all Americans will be
obese - not just overweight, but obese.
So think about how much we'll be spending
on health care to treat obesity-related
conditions like heart disease, cancer, and
diabetes. Think about all the missed days
of work and decreased productivity
we may see as a result."
Never mind that the very same, media driven, circus of terror that has fanned and stoked the flames of this obesity panic are now telling us that it might not be so bad. In fact, there are those who would suggest that all this fear-mongering and hysteria are being generated over an 'epidemic' that never even existed in the first place. We have been saturation bombed for so long by doom-saying messages from the media and a medical community so befuddled they can't even agree on what the problem might be, that we may well have begun to believe in what really isn't there. It's happened before in far less time and with far less effort. The problem is in trying to keep people from grabbing their torches, pick-axes, and rope, then running out to join the mob and do the same old things, the same old way. Ways that have never worked before, won't work now, and will ultimately end up doing more harm than good. Mrs. Obama does seem to get this-
" And there are some people who might
ask you: How can you go and spend money
on something like healthy school lunches when
we've got overcrowded classrooms and
outdated textbooks to worry about? Or,
how can you build parks, or sidewalks, or
bike paths when we can barely afford
to keep the community health center open?
These are fair questions. But when you
step back and think about it, you realize
that in the end, they're really false choices.
We've all heard from teachers and principals
that if kids don't have the nutrition they need
to stay alert and focused in class, even the
best textbooks in the world aren't going to
help them learn. And we've heard from doctors
and public health officials that if they don't
have safe places to play right now, then a
few years from now, that community health
center will be even more crowded and even
more of a strain on your budget."
-America likes progress it can see. Complex status markers like, Blood pressure, cholesterol counts, heart and respiration rates, don't hold much interest for us. But weight loss you can see. It's something you can hold up to show yourself and others while saying 'I did this'. And the BMI is a simple number made even simpler by the medical industry. If your under X it's 'good'. If your over it's 'bad'. Yet we are actively discouraged from asking how healthy either one of these simple markers, body weight and BMI, really are. Which is why the diet industry is so fond of both. Until recently 'Before and After' pictures and testimonials have long been a staple of the industry for this reason. From the 2002 Federal Trade Commissions Analysis of Trends in the Weight Loss Industry-
" Consumer Testimonials; Before/After
Photos. The headline proclaimed:
“I lost 46 lbs in 30 days.” Another blared,
“How I lost 54 pounds without dieting or
medication in less than 6 weeks!” The use
of consumer testimonials is pervasive in
weight-loss advertising. One hundred and
ninety-five (65%) of the advertisements in the
sample used consumer testimonials and
42% contained before-and-after pictures.
These testimonials and photos rarely
portrayed realistic weight loss. The average
for the largest amount of weight loss reported
in each of the 195 advertisements was
71 pounds. Fifty-seven ads reported weight
loss exceeding 70 pounds, and 38 ads reported
weight loss exceeding 100 pounds. The
advertised weight loss ranges are, in all
likelihood, simply not achievable for the
products being promoted. Thirty-six ads used 71
different testimonials claiming weight loss of
nearly a pound a day for time periods of 13
days or more."
-It even became necessary for the Federal Trade Commission to revise the use of the safe harbor disclaimer 'Results not typical'. Specifically to reign in the Diet industries rampant and deceptive use of the phrase to make false claims and generate business. So powerful is America's need to 'see the results' that we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that getting healthy is, not only directly proportional to losing weight, but that losing weight is equal to being healthy. Just as we allowed Diet companies to make money from us even while telling us that the results we are seeing, aren't real. This goes deep. Deep enough so that even the First Lady of the United States is susceptible to the conventional wisdom-
"Mayor Mick Cornett challenged the
people of Oklahoma City to lose a
million pounds, and he created a
website - thiscityisgoingonadiet.com -
where people can learn how to lose
weight and track their weight loss, and
can share personal stories and tips with
others. So far, 40,000 people have
signed up - and together, they've
lost more than half a million pounds. "
- But can they maintain that loss? What does it mean if they end up weighing even more down the line? And are they any healthier? Rarely do these questions ever get asked.
Mrs. Obama, if by some random chance the stars align and you happen to be reading this, the one thing I would hope that you take from it is this; improved health is a valid, worthwhile, and feasible goal for everyone. Especially Children. However a continued, obsessive, focus on weight loss will, most likely only end up making our kids less healthy and / or fatter.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing
over and over again and expecting different results”
Depeche Mode / Stripped