Thursday, October 18, 2007

Controversy Thursday!

Whatever happened to willpower?

Reading this article this morning made me think - not just about how fast food and a mostly sedentary lifestyle makes people fat - but also about how *because* we live in an impatient society full of people who can't wait for anything and who can't tolerate anything that's the least bit inconvenient, we have to fight to keep ourselves healthy - we have to fight extra hard against the powers of inertia - of laziness.

Since Ian broke his ankle on Sunday I have started thinking lots about how lucky I am to have two functioning legs to walk on -- and how grateful I am that I have the ability to live an active life. Walking on crutches for any sort of distance looks to be a major pain and I'm sure Ian would immediately attest to that. The other day when we went to choir rehearsal on campus at Stanford, we *really* could have used a wheelchair. The trip on crutches, which otherwise would have seemed fairly short, left Ian intensely sore under his arms, with bruises and very painful-looking chaffing scars.

So, here are my questions for you -- and I've made today a controversy day so that you can say things that aren't polite if you'd like - and to excuse myself for saying un-p.c. things :-) :

1. What do you think are the primary causes of obesity in this country?

2. If you had to give advice to the nation as a whole about how to live a healthy lifestyle, what would your major points be?

3. Does it bother you when you see other people doing things that you think are unhealthy?

4. What comes to mind when you see obese people riding around in motorized wheelchairs?

5. What things (related to your health) are you most grateful for?

6. In what ways do you find you are lazy about taking care of your health?

7. What things about our modern world do you have to fight against to stay healthy?

(me - 1. the fact that unhealthy food (fast food and prepackaged food) is much cheaper than healthy food - plus the fact that most of our jobs are not walking distance from where we live; 2. walk everywhere you can and limit or eliminate your consumption of meat, alcohol, and sugar - eat more fruits and vegetables - don't drink anything but water; 3. most of the time; 4. i feel really sorry for the person and wonder what has brought them to this point in their lives - wonder if there is some illness involved or what; 5. the wholeness of my physical body, the fact that i have no really bad habits - i'm not addicted to drugs or alcohol - i like to walk and do other exercise, etc.; 6. i am prone to laziness generally, which is just bad generally in all ways. plus, i have a sweet tooth.; 7. cars, fast and pre-packaged food, etc...)


Suze said...

1. It seems that there are several factors, the most significant being the availability of cheap sugar (HFCS is baaaad stuff and it's everywhere), soft drinks, fast food, the inconvenience of healthier foods, and the fact that in most places, it's either dangerous or difficult to get anywhere except by car.

2. I would say eat your veggies, bike to work, and stay away from fast food joints. And for pete's sake, stop feeding crap to our children in the public schools!

3. yes, to some extent. actually, smoking probably bothers me more than anything else.

4. i just feel very sorry for them.

5. er, that i'm healthy!

6. like you, i have a sweet tooth :) and i am not always disciplined about exercise.

7. the convenience of driving everywhere (when you have a toddler to tote around and you're too pregnant to put him in the bike trailer, there's no good way around it, but still...)

Jake said...

1. Selfishness, plain and simple. Everything else is an excuse to cover the fundamental ego trip of consuming everything before us all the time simply because we can.

2. Advice? Seriously? Okay, never eat out anywhere, even "health food" joints serve WAY too much. Instead of watching the telly, DO SOMETHING!! fer pete's sake. Any activity is better than sitting on your arse for hours at a time.

3. Yeah, can you tell? ;)

4. Honestly, that it's pathetic and disgusting. If they are so far gone that they need a friggin motorized wheelchair, my anger and exasperation at them overwhelms the pity I might otherwise be inclined to feel. Uncharitable? No, charity is for the needy.

5. That I have some, that I am not (generally) limited by my body.

6. Don't exercise enough, and I eat out way too much.

7. Momentum - it's true that obesity is contagious. At my previous job, most men around me had fair guts, and it was real easy to pat my belly in annoyance first thing in the morning and then arrive at work and say, oh, look at them, I'm not so bad at all.

Steph said...

1. It's true that people overeat in this country, but I don't embrace a theory explaining obesity that puts all blame only on individuals. I certainly find it distressing when people show downright anger and aggression towards fat people, especially children who have never had an opportunity to learn better habits. Agribusiness and food industry giants are looking for ways to cram maximum calories into the food most available to the poor, because they are dependent on overconsumption of addictive food substances like transfats and corn to keep up their current level of production. Poor people have disproportionate access to these high-calorie foods, and disproportionate lack of access to vegetables. The obese people I know are not selfish or gluttonous. They may have failings of willpower, but most of us do in some areas. I agree with the writer of that article that we can't throw up our hands, call it all a conspiracy, and do nothing to change personal habits, but we don't do that by ignoring these social and economic factors that make it so much easier for poor people to get fat. We certainly don't do it by deriding and demonizing obese people.

2. Don't buy pre-packaged food. Rehaul the Farm Bill to favor small farmers. Overthrow agribusiness. Get rid of grain and soybean subsidies and feedlots. Bonus: Save the environment and big score against global economic injustice.

3. Yes, but it depends on the context as to whether or not it actually pisses me off. Smoking pretty much always pisses me off.

4. Sadness.

5. That I was blessed with good metabolism, have access to decent food, and was well-educated about how to take care of myself.

6. I'm less proactive about circumventing anxiety than I should be, and stress is my number-one health demon.

7. Ditto on the stress.

Steph said...

Sorry, I meant "transfats and high fructose corn syrup." I wouldn't actually argue that straight-up corn is addictive...unless you're maybe a crow.

Suze said...

Considering that a disproportionate percentage of the obese population is also poor might lead one to the "logical" conclusion that poor people are irresponsible and lazy. It's the same messed up logic that might lead one to believe that black people are naturally more criminal than white people because a disproportionate number of the incarcerated population is African American.

Jake said...

Yeah, man, let's hear it for controversy!

It's interesting to me the degree of resistance there is to identifying obesity as a personal choice, whereas people tend to feel pretty comfortable deriding smokers and calling them disgusting to their faces. What's the difference, really? People smoke for a whole host of reasons, many having grown up with it. Smokers are disproportionately minorities and in the lower income quintiles. But everyone apparently knows that smoking is bad, and so no-one's crying on behalf of the poor, manipulated, smokers who don't have a choice in their habit, it's all the evil tobacco companies' fault. Well, okay, people do heap scorn on Big Tobacco, and rightly so, but the role of the individual is not diminished.

Why the heck is it any different for the obese? No-one isn't saying that agribusiness and fast food aren't evil, but as soon as personal accountability enters the picture, people get all "nice" and "caring" and start pooh-poohing the big bad meanie who says to an obese person: "You have a problem that is in your power to fix, so fix it already!" You might as well be turning to the abused victim and offering a lollipop.

Please. There are many layers to the obesity epidemic in this country, from a bigger-is-better mantra to an industrial food system that consciously manipulates and enhances the addictive nature of their product so they can keep selling more. And let's not forget the obscene farm subsidy program that violates the very concept of free trade and on down the list of economic, ecological and social factors.

But until we treat the obese as sick people who need some seriously tough love (anyone here have stories of serving spoons cracking young, grabby knuckles?), the problem will not go away.

Suze said...

Jake, the main difference is that tobacco is completely and totally unnecessary for survival, whereas we all have to eat, and since food has much to do with the obesity epidemic (duh) the lines between personal responsibility and corporate responsibility are harder to draw. That said, there's a good reason tobacco companies had to pay that huge settlement--it all had to do with misleading advertising.