A weighty issue: reconsidering perceptions and misconception of obesity in America
Offering a kilogram of lentil beans to go along with malaria immunizations in Africa increased the immunization rate by 32 percent. Making “tell me my balance” an option rather than the default on online banking resulted in twice as many people logging three times as often. In other words, small things can make surprisingly big differences. This means that sometimes the way to attack big issues, like obesity, is to take many baby steps. Some will make a difference, some will be fairly meaningless, but eventually there will be change. In her article “Family dinner: eating with big brother” in the November 11 issue of the Log, Lindsay Gabow ‘12 castigates the government for requiring chain restaurants to show the nutritional information of their products. While undoubtedly she is correct in her belief that this will not solve obesity in America, the question is really whether this will make a difference.
There is a reason that Weight Watchers is successful. Usually attributed to the social atmosphere, Weight Watchers also uses numbers and points to help dieters understand and consider exactly what they are eating. This awareness is crucial to the weight loss process, and numbers, whether points, calories or grams help force an individual to think. Obvious nutrition information helps. There is a big difference between knowing that your McDonald’s Angus Deluxe, large fries and large soda are unhealthy (something we all can recognize) and knowing that the meal contains 1560 calories. Also, calorie information can help you realize that your ostensibly healthy choice is not so healthy. So you are eating breakfast at McDonald’s (under duress, of course) and you decide the healthiest choice would be oatmeal. Glancing at the nutrition information might help you notice that your “healthy” breakfast actually contains a whopping 32 grams of sugar, your daily value according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
There is also no reason to consider this requirement at all like Orwell’s 1984. At no point is the government collecting data on the populace; actually, they are distributing more information. An Orwellian government controls the minds of the population by seeding pervasive distrust while collecting constant and private data about its citizens. In the United States, these laws have been put in place to educate the general public, a far cry from Oceania.
Amid Gabow’s allusions to a dystopian society, I noticed a more frightening, though unintentional, theme. Sarcastically stating that “we needn’t make decisions for ourselves, nor utilize even a sliver of… what’s the stuff?... common sense […] All personal responsibility is gone,” Gabow implies that obese Americans are incapable of making proper decisions and lack both common sense and personal responsibility. Even though this wasn’t her message, it shows how pervasive this idea and language is. As an obese American, I find the suggestion offensive and frequent throughout society.
While obesity is undoubtedly health-related, it requires a different handling than other issues. It is now commonplace to admonish someone for smoking, but it is not acceptable to reprimand an obese individual for eating a slice of cake. This is true for a reason. No one should smoke cigarettes, but everyone needs to eat, making dieting and weight loss a much more complicated matter. Additionally, American society, like many around the world, places a high premium on looks, leaving many people to place a large portion of their self worth in their weight. People gain weight for many reasons, including lack of information, lack of good habits, lack of money, poor understanding of nutrition, and yes, sometimes, poor self-control. But castigating emotional eaters for their weight will only lead them to binge later, hating themselves the entire time. Losing weight is hard, and self hatred is not an acceptable or healthy motivator.
Currently, many people do not even attempt to moderate their language when it comes to weight, feeling instead that they are helping the obese by pointing out their flaws. One summer, I bent to pick something up in a restaurant and heard the person next to me mutter, “Well, I just lost my appetite.” When I turned to them expecting an apology or to have just awkwardly misheard a conversation, I was greeted by a woman in her mid-twenties who looked me in the eye and simply said, “Well, it’s true,” to the entertainment of her friend. We need to stop seeing obesity as a personality flaw or a moral failure and desist from accusatory language.
At Loomis, we are lucky to have a community that is kind and supportive. However, talking about obesity challenges even the best communities. While it is undoubtedly a health risk, change must be brought about through the search for fitness rather than through the hatred of fat. Even as we change the type of harmful dialogue, we need to maintain the steps that help adults lose weight and help children avoid obesity. Dieting is difficult, with an estimated 95 percent of dieters gaining any lost weight back within three years. Anything to make the process easier is worth trying.