Monday, February 1, 2010

caricature of society?

"Weight discrimination in the United States increased 66% over the prior decade."
- Rebecca Puhl, researcher at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

I read an article in the LA Times health section today that contained a statement about how how obesity is a psychological manifestation of American culture. Here's an excerpt that said it pretty well:

"[The obese are] almost a caricature of greed, overconsumption, overspending, over-leveraging and overusing resources,"... "Though it's not entirely rational, it's an understandable reaction, especially in a country founded on the Puritan ethics of self-reliance, sacrifice and individual responsibility. If people feel they're sacrificing, then see someone spilling over an airplane seat, they feel angry that that person is not making the same sacrifices they are."
- Fed up with fat and saying something about it, LA Times, read the entire article here

photo credits

I thought that was a pretty interesting way of looking at it. Do you find yourself to be discriminatory towards the overweight? While living in Paris last fall, it definitely caught my eye that people were, well, smaller. They eat very well, don't hold gyms in as high esteem as Americans, and smoke like chimneys. During my sojourn, I ate tartes, crossaints, fromage, and all the other french delicacies you can imagine to my heart's content, and returned (reportedly) tinier. We're obviously doing something wrong.

The piece made me reflect on the way our society is, and all the power we have in our hands to change it. However, the problem is not as simple as its presented in the article. If you look into the issue more, the government and health policies really do have the power to turn this around. They can't rely on citizens' personal initiative to be healthy when they're offering shelves upon shelves of cheap junk food- just go look in your local Wal-Mart. Based on its target demographics, what low-cost foods of nutritional value are they offering their customers, compared to your average Whole Foods grocery store? You can't make junk plentiful and cheap, and then discriminate people for being fat. The idea behind environmentalism is similar- don't expect people to be recycling and making an effort to be green when there is little incentive (sadly, the benefits way down the line doesn't seem to factor into the majority of the population)- why not start charging for plastic bags at grocery stores and taking plastic water bottles off the shelves? The smallest steps can make such a huge difference in the long run, we just need to implement them.

Yes, we're making the effort now, taking unhealthy foods out of school cafeterias and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags and metal water bottles. And we're still not doing enough. But why now? This isn't rocket science- we should have figured this out ages ago. Now we have these huge issues on our hands that will take generations, and many tax dollars, to solve.


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