Hold the skinny jeans, we’re in the middle of a massive obesity epidemic. Every night we have to stare at stock footage of Americans waddling around in their maxed-out sweat pants on the nightly news. It’s clear; we’re fat. Our kids are fat. Our pets are fat. According to some Wall Street insiders, the trader who accidentally entered the wrong number of share orders and nearly crashed the entire market – his fingers are fat.
If you combine overweight and obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association about 70% of us are fat. That’s nearly three out of four people in the US – a whopping majority.
But when we talk about this plague that will ensure this generation will die younger than their parents, we always wag our fingers at the “poor choices” fat people are making. It’s a way of blaming the victim, not addressing the issue and not offending business. It’s well-worn creed spouted often and rarely thought about. And we’re still fat.
Two percent of the population and it’s a personal responsibility issue. Seventy percent and it’s a little more complicated.
Here’s the thing: if you’re a capitalist – think it’s the only thing that can drive our economy, spur innovation and create “all that’s good in the world” (or in the case of BP all that’s gooed in the world), if that’s what you think makes America “American” – then obesity is great.
If capitalism is a virtue, fat people are saintly. The obese are good consumers. They’ve clearly done what they’re supposed to do – consume.
Food companies have done a great job with their tenets of capitalism making their products so irresistible – we don’t resist them.
So, stop blaming fat people for doing what companies have urged them to do. That’s like stalking someone for decades and then calling the cops once they agree to go out with you.
This week marks the end to the ninth season of the NBC’s The Biggest Loser , where overweight contestants battle it out to drop pounds. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I got into the show because I enjoy watching people who are bad at sports do them on national television. Most sports broadcasts have elite athletes showing off their greatness. Who cares. Where do us average, picked-last-in-P.E. schlubs go to see ourselves represented on TV? The Biggest Loser. It takes the egalitarian nature of reality shows and then levels the playing field.
If you watch the show, as millions do, it’s basically a two-hour long infomercial for the overweight. The trainers hock sponsor’s products in staged scenes where contestants ask about healthy meals, ways to store their healthy snacks or are curious about products deemed healthy. Their gym is a sponsor; they tout their own brand of whey protein shakes and their own Wii Fit game. It’s like watching QVC with commercial breaks.
The contestants turn into shills for the companies advertising on the show. “I’m learning how to make the right choices.” In fact The Biggest Loser’s dogmatic phrase “make the right choices” is as about as commercial friendly as possible. Because it doesn’t discourage consuming, it encourages. Has The Biggest Loser thwarted our nation’s epidemic? No, but it has made a bunch of money off of it. Which is the point, right?
Obesity and the hidden costs behind it are a classic example of privatizing profit and socializing losses. The more successful the food industry is, the fatter we become and the more society has to absorb those costs. The military has reportedly turned away over 48,000 recruits since 2005 for being too fat to serve. And if they can’t pass the military’s standard of 26% body fat, they’re not likely to make it as a civilian first responder either.
Obesity is the crowning achievement of the food companies. They don’t have to pay for the health costs of an entire nation being fat. They just reap the rewards of a society that keeps on plumping up and eating more over-processed, nutritionally void catchphrases from people selling us “feeling good.”
Because like we saw with the housing crisis, unregulated big business can lead to disasters of epic proportions. Just like those epic portions on your plate that you’ll admit are a “bad choice.”