For several years now (perhaps even the last decade) alarm bells have been ringing about the rise of obesity. I find it odd how the mainstream news, current affairs, and media in general regurgitate the same dire warnings about how the “world is getting fatter” like it’s the first time this phenomenon has ever been broadcast.
Every second day, we read and hear the warnings about becoming overweight, they tell us the awful statistics of how many people are suffering preventative diseases like diabetes and heart disease and how these problems are directly related to poor diet and not enough regular exercise. Yet, the obesity problem is still growing like a sow on a pig farm fed on straight molasses.
Why aren't people listening?
So why is it that people are not heeding the warnings they constantly hear from media outlets, doctor visits, community health education programs, family members, and even friends? Why aren’t they listening and taking action to reduce the pounds knowing their lives would improve immensely?
Some say, there are too many temptations for ordinary folk to deal with like fast food and sugary drinks. Others blame the rising cost of fresh food and say healthy eating has become so expensive that fast food is now even more appealing.
There are those who think there isn’t enough emphasis on sport and physical education in schools anymore leading to a culture of apathy towards exercise and healthy lifestyle.
I’ve heard many commentators focus on modern technology for the obesity outbreak. Things like the use of computers, TV’s, mobile phones, and gaming consoles, keeping us motionless for long periods. Also, how our mobility (when we do move) is completely assisted with various modes of transport available, and escalators or elevators to make the journey even less effort are installed throughout our cities.
How about simply being time-poor? With a great deal of the world’s workforce now part-time, many people are working more than one job to make ends meet leaving them little time to plan and create a home-cooked healthy meal, go for a run, or stop off at the gym for a workout. Those with full-time work aren’t living a life of bliss either as the working week expands under economic pressures to keep businesses and homes afloat during the current economic conditions.
I tend to agree with all the above and I think, because, there are so many areas contributing to our obesity crisis, that is the reason no one has found a silver bullet – the problem is just too broad (no pun intended). Uncoordinated and individual campaigns are not going to turn the fat ship around. No amount of advertising campaigns showing people gargling blubber and vomiting it back up on prime-time TV networks is going to shock a nation or world into embracing tofu and salads in lieu of super-sized take away meals.
What went wrong?
What I believe is really required is a combination of a grass roots approach and a tough love regime supported by a willing society all focused on the one goal (a healthier society), without pandering to or being distracted by whacky minority view points.
Shouldn’t everyone be a reasonable weight for their size and be reasonably fit? When did we go wrong and decide little Johnny and Julie should be allowed to choose between sport and a book during physical education at school? It’s difficult to determine an exact time, because culture change can’t be defined by a line in the sand on a certain date.
"Old school"- this jogger (image above) is 70 years old and he regularly runs up and down the steepest street in New Zealand (I met him when I was on holidays)… awesome
Nevertheless, it’s obvious that gradually over time and probably over the past two decades society has given in to minority views and made concessions time and time again until we have reached this point where you no longer “have to” do anything. Indeed, if someone wants to try and make you comply with any rule, there is usually an exception card to be found somewhere for a person to hold up in defiance.
Speaking generally, as a society we’ve pandered and spoilt our people, especially our children, by allowing options and condoning a “if you prefer not to do it then that's ok” attitude in the interest to empower people and "tip toe" around their inabilities. But unfortunately, this approach has not done our society or kids a favour. Kids, young adults, and even adults don’t always know what’s good for them; sometimes, they need to be told rather than encouraged.
In fact, through the early 2000's we groomed a bunch of children into young adults who genuinely think “big is beautiful” because although we didn't truly believe fat was beautiful society's view was (still is) to not tell anyone the rude truth. So we said, "if you're happy with yourself that's all that matters," instead of telling them the truth; like, if you keep getting fatter you'll be an invalid by 35.
Just like over exaggerating how being skinny is beautiful can lead to anorexia in some people, under playing body image can give people a false feeling that being fat isn’t too bad. We should be promoting a healthy and fit body image and never the extremes including directly or inadvertently stating it’s ok to be overweight.
We've evolved into a culture of inactivity
I’ve written my views about school curriculums before and how our focus on academics has become way out of balance compared to the importance of being healthy. Sure, children do need to read books and they should be allowed to pursue their non-sporting careers with vigour; however, a fat and unhealthy academic with all the brains in the world is not much use if they become a burden on society due to preventative diseases related to over eating and a lack of exercise.
And, when I’m talking “grass roots” I don’t just mean schools and children either. Universities and other educational institutions need to have active programs in place to continue encouraging young people to keep fit and healthy.
Let’s not stop at educational intuitions either, how about work places for fitness standards and weight control – it’s non-existent! How many fat police officers do you see? How many employers are made to alter machinery to fit the obese employee rather than helping the person to become healthier?
When I was a soldier, I can remember the changes in the mid-90’s to fitness standards – lowering them of course. Among many other fitness decreases, the Australian Army reduced its basic fitness assessment run length from 5 kms down to 2.4 kms. They say the new run length was introduced to reduce injuries but really it was purely because the politicians wanted easier recruiting standards, it saved testing time, and too many unfit soldiers were failing. Some PTI’s were even convinced the 2.4 km run was harder, but then they were made to sell it to the troops. The truth is, we all found the 2.4 km plod easier than the 5 km run test. Compare the Australian troops of the 80’s to the Aussie soldiers now and you’ll see a big difference in waist size.
We’ve evolved to accept lesser standards, we’re told not to discriminate on a person’s size, and we’re forced to accommodate their ever increasing backsides. Don’t dare mention someone’s weight, just find another reason not to employ them or let them go.
What else can we do about our obesity crisis?
Fat tax me…
So, what are the big ideas from authorities about how to tackle this obesity problem? Nothing much… Advocates for the healthy food movement and some elected representatives (the world over) want to introduce a “fat tax” to tax fast food and other products people may swallow, which are deemed to be unhealthy. Another tax – that’s what poor people need…right…Not!
Other people believe education is the key and they think more funding for health campaigns is required to get the message out about how bad obesity is for our health. Yep, that’s ok, but it hasn’t worked so far.
We all have some idea of the billions health systems across the world would save if we could prevent obesity related illnesses or even halve them. Therefore, we all know we need to address the problem through funding and others areas which don’t cost money to bring about a real cultural shift.
I concede some sit down education programs should continue; although, I’d like to see the majority of all funding and effort be concentrated on real activities which actually get hearts pumping! Not heads thinking – that will come later when they are in bed tried and quietly satisfied about the exercise they did that day.
Bring back more sport and physical activity in schools – make everyone participate. Make sport, physical training, and health education part of a university/college program no matter what you’re studying. Organise the fitness activities to be inclusive for all no matter what standard or how uncoordinated individuals may be, so everyone gets involved.
Forget about installing a bigger seat for the fat bus driver, give the businesses the tools and option to give their staff the flexibility, time, and help to exercise – provide business with a framework to apply for extra funding through specific government programs if they require. Reduce the legal liability on employers who are well intentioned and want to adopt sensible exercise at work or before work activities.
We need to work together for a cultural health change
There’s lots more we can do as a society to reduce obesity other than jumping up on a soap box and exclaiming in vain how we should all lose weight and be healthier. We need to reverse the culture change we’ve just been through in the past few decades and make the majority think exercise and a healthy lifestyle is something they truly believe in.
After all, being alive and living a quality life should really be a priority for everyone; because, without these fundamentals we don’t exist or our existence is greatly retarded by our own avoidable deeds.
If society is a team and teams work together to achieve certain goals, then at the moment where a bunch of individuals with many trying to do the right thing but out of sync, others indifferent, and some completely confused and in despair due to the lack of direction.
To get a grip on our obesity crisis world-wide and especially in the Western World we need to employ all our weapons and strategies at the same time and be as committed to the cause as if world peace depended on it. We can’t waiver or show weakness and we can’t stop until the job is done.
Politicians like to justify war as the pain we must go through now in order to protect our citizens and future generations. Well, what’s the difference between not taking action through war and potentially leaving an unsafe world for the next generation, or, not taking action on obesity and condemning an innocent next generation to a poor quality of life and a life expectancy less than the last?
We all need to pick up our game and strive to change the way we as a society approach life. Let’s strive for wealth and prosperity, sure, however, let’s not make wealth and prosperity a more important achievement than health and lifestyle.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your support – as always.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia Editor SSM