Obesity needs more attention, higher priority

    It’s taken countless days spent entirely behind desks, greasy meals wolfed down in front of the TV, and evenings spent watching sports games rather than playing them, but we’ve finally done it: Overweight Americans now outnumber those who aren’t by nearly a two-to-one margin, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys.

    Worldwide, there are one billion overweight people, and recent NHNE surveys also report that about 15 percent of children ages six to 19 are overweight. What to do? Public health organizations may broadcast one message, but fast food commercials preach quite another — and the latter command much more power over the average American.

    In the case of child obesity, prevention is paramount — and parents, not children, are responsible for it. Kids don’t sign themselves up for soccer, voluntarily ignore the TV or drive to Whole Foods to stock up on health food. Instead, they imitate their parents’ lifestyles and eating habits, which are often deplorable. Children possess both a love for junk food and enormous sway in the grocery store when shopping with their parents. Yet parents can have complete control over the diets of their offspring, and if kids begin life with healthy diets, they’re likely to eat well for the rest of their lives.

    The reality is that most parents don’t exert any positive influence on their kids’ eating habits; either they pass on unhealthy habits or are spineless when it comes to refusing requests for junk food. In the case of weight, a staunch parent goes a long way — indeed, a lifetime.

    Obesity in otherwise healthy children is indicative of unhealthy, irresponsible parents. Adults are perfectly welcome to maintain any sort of body they like — more on that later. But when a person is shaping a child’s life, they have a responsibility to make that shape a positive one.

    It’s clear that nothing short of a fundamental change in the American lifestyle will curb adult and, by extension, childhood obesity. In the meantime, though, we may as well accept the present situation.

    We can start by acknowledging that it’s cruel and unethical to preach that any adult’s body shape “”needs correction.”” It’s a conscious adult’s prerogative to maintain an unhealthy body, which leads to an early death.

    In society’s view, early death is fine; early death from obesity, however, is not. We idolize the model, the rock star and the athlete — all of whom gain more acclaim the more they abuse their bodies. When rock stars die of overdoses, models wither before our eyes and athletes tear up their bodies beyond belief, we forgive and idolize them. But when an overweight person dies of a heart attack, we connect the two factors — disregarding the fact that “”heart disease has a lot more to do with genetics and the lipid profile than with obesity,”” as stated by Dr. Felix Kolb of University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine — and condemn the “”bad choices”” the person made. We only consider them bad choices, however, because they lead to a body that American society dictates is ugly.

    As a group, Americans hate their bodies — and not only that, but they hate other peoples’ bodies too. We hate skinny bodies for being “”beautiful,”” but a special kind of hate is reserved for fat people; skinny people, we reason, have at least achieved conventional beauty. Fat has no place in the aesthetic ideal of America, so there is no braver social deviant than the overweight person who is content with their body.

    Society dictates that fat people should hide in their houses and try to find salvation in altering their looks. But this simply doesn’t happen — and we hate fat people for leading normal, rewarding lives. Those lives may be cut a few years short, of course, but not everyone wants to live until they’re 90, especially if they’re enjoying their time on Earth by eating deliciously unhealthy foods and not bothering themselves with push-ups and early morning runs.

    But here lies the rub: As the number of overweight and obese people rises, so does the strain on our medical system. Worldwide, “”at least 17 million people died from [obesity-related] causes in 1999 — 2.3 million more than died from cardiovascular disease in 1990,”” reports the UK Guardian. Maybe it’s heartless to say that treatment for a disease stemming from obesity is too little, too late. But the only real way to battle obesity-related diseases is with radical improvements in lifestyle, and if an otherwise healthy adult has neglected their health long enough to fall ill, there’s little chance that treatment will work.

    The bottom line is that adults need to take responsibility: first, for their bodies and lifestyles by anticipating (and preventing, if they so wish) the health problems their lifestyle is going to cause; and secondly, for the health of their children. When a child is cursed from the start by irresponsible parenting, the real tragedy surfaces. But once you’re a conscious adult, you’re free to respect or abuse your body in whatever way you want.

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