Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's not your fault (really?)

I found this article about obesity from Reuters yesterday: Insight: America's hatred of fat hurts obesity fight.  It correctly starts off by pointing out there's a stigmatization that obese people are gluttons and sloths with no self control.  So much so that (from the article):
One effect of the obesity stigma is that discrimination on the basis of weight is legal. Michigan is the only state that prohibits it, along with a few towns and cities. Everywhere else, it is legal to deny people jobs or refuse to rent them an apartment if they are obese.
 That is truly a shame.  But it's also a shame that from there the article just completely whiffs: 
As long as we have this belief that obese people are lazy and lacking in discipline, it will be hard to get support for policies that change the environment, which are likely to have a much larger impact than trying to change individuals
Actually, short of force feeding people, individuals changing their habits is the ONLY way we can right the ship on this issue.  Each person ultimately has final control of what goes into their mouths.  In his movie Fat Head, Tom Naughton poignantly stood outside a fast food chain restaurant waiting for someone to drag him inside and make him buy some 'bad' food.  Defying conventional wisdom, it didn't happen!  You see, we can only 'change the environment' by voting with our dollars.  If people stopped buying junk overnight and demanded real food from retailers, then the ball would start rolling.  Profits are king.  Large corporate food giants don't give a rip about WHAT they sell you, as long as THEY are the ones selling it to you (and making money).

This does bring up one caveat here.  By subsidizing agriculture, the government is itself changing the environment.  The food giants will gladly take this 'gift' and try to sell us mostly food that is guaranteed to be low cost.  But make no mistake, in the end, if enough people change what they buy, the market will react accordingly.

Even with the so called experts calling for more regulation, most people understand the fundamental reason for obesity (from the article):
A new Reuters/Ipsos online poll of 1,143 adults from May 7 to 10 captures some of the prejudicial attitudes. Asked to identify the main cause of the epidemic, 61 percent chose personal choices about eating and exercising
Of course it's personal choices, but a lot of folks in the health industry don't agree (article):
This week, an influential health panel proposed changes to an obesity-promoting environment, from farm policies to zoning, trying to shift the debate away from personal blame
Sadly, even though most people 'get' that it's personal choices, they still want somebody else to fix the problem for them (article):
In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, respondents were almost evenly split over "government intervention" to reduce obesity, with 52 percent supporting it and 48 percent opposing it
Here's the deal.  People are not obese because they're gluttons and sloths.  They're gluttons and sloths BECAUSE they're obese.  No, that is not some sort of slight of hand or trick wording.  It all comes down to the type of food you're eating.  When a person consumes processed junk food their body is not getting the nutrition it requires to function normally.  In accordance, the body does two things.  First, it wants you to eat more in an attempt to get those lacking nutrients.  And second, it slows down your metabolism to compensate for the small amount of energy it's deriving from said 'food'.  If you fail to change your eating habits and continue to 'starve' your cells of the nutrition it requires then this vicious cycle will spiral out of control with you gaining weight, slowing down and eating more.  Not until you change your eating habits will your health return, delivering more energy and less huger as rewards.

Now, I do sympathize with obese people in regards to all of the bad information that's being tossed about.  This Rueters article is a perfect example.  When health 'experts' spout off that you're not the one to blame, well, that's a lot easier to deal with than changing your habits.  And then if you DO decide to change things, you're told to eat plenty of whole grain, low fat food and do lots of cardio.  Inevitably this ends up not working (long term anyway), you get frustrated, and end up back at square one.  Bad information - I hates it!


The Primalist said...

I think it's a combo deal. People need to take more responsibility for what they put in their mouths. But some of the crap that passes for food out there shouldn't even exist.

It's a tough issue. It can be confusing when the government or whoever is telling you that HFCS is natural and the same as sugar, as just one example. BPA not being harmful is another. Fats are bad for you. Basically the opposite of everything we believe in paleo.

If grocery stores and restaurants only served actual food, then it'd be harder to be obese. Sure, you can overeat on paleo, but I doubt the average person could do it to the point of obesity.

Having said that, simply complaining about the state of the world and using that as an excuse for your individual actions is not only pointless, but harmful.

Sadly, the world won't change change from the top down. Instead, the only chance for change is from the bottom up. And that's where responsibility, educating yourself, leading by example, etc. come in.

Aaron said...

Yes, it is a tough issue.

I agree that leading by example and showing people how to become more responsible for their own health is the best way forward. And I'm excited for these things and try to do my part.

Where we run into one of our greatest challenges, as you point out, is when people become frustrated trying to make sense of the confusing and conflicting information Jungle out there.