|My smiling eighth grade face|
A recent article in the New York Times Magazine captures the essence of and some of the newest research on the struggle to maintain a healthy weight one that I share with millions of Americans. In particular, it’s author, Tara Parker-Pope, follows the Bridges, a couple who work extremely hard to maintain their overweight, and struggle against a slide back into extreme obesity. My diabetes diagnosis caught me short before I got to their state, but I still fear that same inexorable drift towards heft.
|A wok full of joy from fall 2011|
Like the Bridges, I exercise religiously--always travelling under my own power when possible and sprinting off on my bike for long excursions, I scrutinize everything that approaches my mouth, and I worry that despite this vigilance I’m still gaining something that gravity can hold against me. The research cited in Pope’s article, of hereditary traits and genetic predispositions, fills in some of the blanks of America’s losing struggle against fat. At the same time, I don’t ignore the role played by personal choices and the obesogenic environment in which they are made.
I don’t take genetic predispositions and family traits as a sentence of or adequate justification for obesity in the one third of American adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents who already crossed that line. Those factors--the wars our bodies wage against us to keep unwanted weight on--are but one more reason to take our food environment and the choices we make within it more seriously. Obesity already costs us more that $147 billion. We need all the help we can get, and the surge of products and promotions that pushes us remorselessly towards early ends as “heavy users” make good health harder.
The struggles spoken of in Pope’s article, the obvious economic burdens born by an overweight nation, and the uncountable instances when a person’s dreams die slowly from fat asphyxiation give us more than enough reasons to attack the problem created by our ignorant appetites and the companies that prey on our imperfect humanity. I don’t want to live in a blubbery cage, and I’m willing to work at it for the rest of my life. But I also would like to live in a world that doesn’t stand in my way with fries and a shake poking at my face.
It’s noble to struggle for your own health, and the government sworn to protect the general welfare and your pursuit of happiness should help. Unfortunately, from the FTC’s failure to regulate and restrict unhealthy food advertising aimed at children to the farm policies that produce our abundance of cheap corn, soy, and flesh, that’s not the case as often as it should be. I won’t claim that government is the whole solution to this problem, but having the biggest monkey in the cage fighting for you comes in handy. Pope’s article reminded me why it’s important to push for a change to our sagging status quo in 2012 and beyond.