June 24, 2003

By Michael Strickland

America the Obese

I've long been disturbed by how many overweight people there are in this country. What's worse, the problem continues to worsen. In the year 2000, 31 percent of adults in America were obese (defined as being more than 30 percent above ideal body weight). That percentage will rise to nearly 40 percent in 2008—just five years from now. And this health issue is not limited to adults; a study conducted a few years ago found that 15 percent of children and adolescents aged 6-19 are overweight.

Though the tyranny of political correctness ruling this country prevents even the word "fat" from being uttered without a cultural slap on the wrist, this problem—this epidemic—needs to be addressed openly and frankly. Though many obese and overweight people might be sensitive about their condition, it's not about personal appearance—it's a health issue. Some of the risks associated with obesity include diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and several forms of cancer. The medical costs tied to obesity amount to as much as $93 billion annually, approximately half of which is borne by the government (read: by you, me and our fellow taxpayers).

Weight-loss programs of all shapes and sizes have become more popular than ever, perhaps as a result of the increased awareness of our nation's obesity crisis. Yet, as I see it, some of these programs require less and less effort on the part of the person trying to lose weight, which in effect treats the effect of the behavior without changing the behavior. Dietary supplements such as Metabolife and Slim-Fast (or even a Subway sandwich) offer an easy way to shed some pounds simply by popping a few pills or replacing a meal with a shake. Liposuction literally sucks fat right out of the body. Perhaps most drastic, stomach-reduction surgery ties off the stomach, reducing its capacity from two quarts to less than an ounce, making it physically impossible to ingest much food.

This latter procedure has quickly become the latest weight loss fad. This year, more than 100,000 people will undergo stomach-reduction surgery—a 60 percent increase over last year. In fact, it was an interview piece about this procedure (a thinly veiled infomercial, in my opinion) on a Sunday morning news program that prompted me to write this editorial. What struck me most was the doctor's casual admission that the mortality rate for this type of procedure is approximately 1 in 250. What that means is that, of the 100,000 people who will undergo the surgery this year, 400 of them will die as a result of the procedure.

I freely admit that I cannot understand what would prompt a person to undergo such a high-risk surgical procedure. I'm sure many such people have tried other weight-loss programs without success, and choose the procedure as a sort of last-ditch effort. But—and I know I may offend some people with this statement—I believe most weight problems can be managed by an effective application of diet and exercise; it's a lack of real effort that drives most people to stomach-reduction surgery and other high-risk medical procedures.

Granted, many obese people may be genetically predisposed to collect extra fat, thus making it difficult to lose weight. However, that collected fat has to get there in the first place. The pounds don't just magically materialize. The local weekly San Diego Reader ran a feature article recently in which many morbidly obese people told their stories. Virtually all of them described their massive overeating habits and complete lack of exercise. I contend that, if a person eats sensibly and exercises regularly, it is impossible for he or she to remain seriously overweight or obese.

Unfortunately, we've become a fat nation because we're a lazy nation. You don't see many obese Asians because, as a culture, they're generally hardworking. You don't see many obese French people because, as a culture, they eat sensibly (which requires more work than throwing a TV dinner in the microwave). We get fat because we eat Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast, Big Macs for lunch and Pizza Hut for dinner. We stay fat because we pop diet pills and go on and off diet fads, instead of eating right and staying fit. We may laugh as people start filing lawsuits against fast food restaurants, but it won't be long before the widespread health consequences of obesity make themselves felt, just as the effects of cigarette smoking did.

If you have an opinion of your own, or want to blast the writer for his controversial contentions and stereotypes, send your comments to Daily@Strick.net.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year (almost), I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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June Columns:

6/30: Halfway There
6/27: 28 Days Later
6/26: I Am a Racist
6/24: America the Obese
6/23: Reality TV Sells
6/20: June Gloom
6/18: Hatch's Hollywood Hacking
6/16: Qualcomm Stadium
6/15: Happy Father's Day
6/14: Flag Day
6/13: Friday the 13th
6/12: Extreme
6/9: Spammed
6/8: Lack of PLANning
6/7: When Grass Attacks
6/4: Culture Shock
6/1: The Baja 500
Previous months in The Archive

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