Monday, May 23, 2011

Fixing the Country: Six Simple Steps to Curb the U.S.'s Obesity Epidemic

Traveling through Australia has been an eye-opening experience. The country is modern and the people are friendly, but the country as a whole is extraordinarily different than America. At some point during my travels, I started thinking: “Our country is kind of fucked up.”

Don't get me wrong, I still think the U.S. Is the best country in the world, and it's probably the best time to be alive (until tomorrow, that is...think about that one...), but truth be told there are some things that we could definitely be doing better. For example, did you know that “Naked” juices here are called “Nudie” juice? Or at least that's the Aussie rip-off version. Who woulda thought?

At any rate, this is the second in a series of posts about what the U.S. Could do to improve in several key areas. I call it “Fixing the Country.”

One of the problems that they don't seem to have nearly as much of in Australia is obesity. I spent a lot of time walking around Sydney, and I noticed the number of people jogging or running around on your average Thursday is a lot higher than what you see in St. Louis. On the weekend, the difference is even more noticeable. People are constantly active, constantly moving around. Part of it is that they have fewer TV channels in Australia—less chance to watch trashy reality TV shows, though there is one show that I saw a commercial for (something like “Random Alcohol Checkpoint”) that looked pretty solid. Most of the guys look like fucking Eric Bana. Most of the girls look...well...pretty awesome.

You all know how much I like specific lessons and action items, so here are a few that may help our obesity epidemic here in the States:

-Make food more expensive. You can't get a decent sit-down meal in Sydney for less than $20 Australian (closer to $24 American). As someone without income for the time being, this got my attention really quickly. You learn that a box of granola bars and the one place that advertises “$10 steak” can easily get you through a day, and (guess what?) you don't starve! In fact, I'm finally getting back to my college weight down here, as those last 15 pounds or so are slowly being eaten away by just not eating as much. So how can the U.S do the same when ConAgra and McDonald's are constantly striving to shave a few pennies off of their prices? In a word, taxes. Now I'm not usually a fan of taxation as a solution to a problem, but we're still digging a huge deficit hole in this country, folks. I'm not usually the “sky is falling” type, but we're getting into a situation where other countries are starting to worry about the long-term viability of the dollar. Even a $1 tax on fast food or sugars/corn syrup would likely bring in billions, while dissuading people from eating that shit and thus saving money on health care. Why should I be subsidizing the 400 lb. Guy that needs a forklift to get him into his wheelbarrow so that he can go out for a “stroll”? If food was more expensive, maybe he'd put down the knife-and-fork and exercise a bit. Portion control also falls under this heading—less food for the same money means that food is more expensive.

-Drop the high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and flour addiction. These three food ingredients are probably more responsible for obesity than any others. I love the high fructose corn syrup people who defend the stuff by saying, “well, it's no worse for you than sugar!” yeah, but SUGAR IS ALSO TERRIBLE FOR YOU!!! Do you have any idea how much sugar people consume now compared to even fifty years ago? Literally, tons more per person per year. A coke used to be a rare treat, and even then it was something like 8 ounces. Now, you can get the super big “Fuck You” gulp, 128 ounces of pure sugary delight, for like 49 cents. It's ridiculous how much sugar we eat. Flour is something else that we could do with a lot less of—the processed kind tends to be metabolized directly to fat, leading to old Jethro in the wheelbarrow above. I'm not saying get rid of them entirely; it's just that people have shown that they're incapable of limiting their own intake, so like children with candy, maybe we should set some guidelines. On a related note...

-Eat more meat and (especially) vegetables. Get a little primal. Meat, especially grass-fed beef, contains tons of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are vital antioxidants. And replace those starches and carbs with two different kinds of vegetables at dinner every night—they fill you up, are high in fiber and water content, and have all kinds of stuff that is good for you. I used to be like a poor Irish family; going without potatoes at dinner time was practically a sin. But guess what? Over time, I learned to appreciate that second serving of vegetables, especially with how light and energized I felt the next day. Quite simply, people need to eat more vegetables at home, and restaurants need to offer at least two vegetable substitution items so that people can hold those potatoes and rice on the side, and eat a little bit healthier when they go out.

-Cut the PC bullshit. I can't stand this “accept me for being fat!” attitude that is going around now. I'll accept you for being fat when my health insurance premiums don't subsidize your gout and bed sore cleanings. Until then, though, a healthy dose of ostracization is actually healthy. My brother and I are perfect examples: growing up, we were both fat. Our parents, bless their hearts, let us drink soda all day and eat Dove chocolate-covered ice cream bars literally by the boxful. Because of this, we both got fat. Because of our fatness, we enjoyed some “mild ribbing” at school. This negative attention forced both of us to change our lives once we became self-aware enough to do so, to the point that my brother has lost over 100 lbs. From his heaviest point, and is now an actor. My own weight loss hasn't been as dramatic, but without several well-timed pictures and people pointing out what a fat ass I was, I'd still probably be tottering around at 225, and thinking P90X was something you could buy at GNC.

This shouldn't give you license to go overboard, but if a friend is being a fat piece of shit, tell them so. Additionally, if some asshole who happens to be fat is being unreasonable, it should be one more bullet in the chamber. The only problem with this is because our society has conditioned people to believe so, the fat asshole will think, “Oh, I'm not an asshole, he's just making fun of me because I'm fat.” For these people, I recommend letting them know that they're both fat AND assholes.

To those of you that think that this is somehow “bullying,” get over yourselves. Is it technically? Probably. But without a little bullying, I'd probably be pushing 300 lbs. today, asking my brother to use the “fridge stick” to open the freezer without getting up so that we could tear into another package of Dove bars. Sometimes a little peer pressure and adversity can toughen up an otherwise soft, doughy ball of fat. Well, adversity, and football.

Get back to letting kids run around. I'm saving our educational system for a future post, but while we're fattening up our little piglets in these creativity-free zones with chips, pizza, and soda, “budget cuts” have forced schools to cut back on gym and other recess time. My question is simple: why? It doesn't cost anything to let kids run around on the playground for an extra hour per day. The real reason is the over-lawyering of America—you can bet if fat little Suzie falls and twists an ankle, her folks will lawyer up so quickly the principal's head will spin—and that's a goddamned shame. If these kids are going to go home and sit in front of a computer all night, either to do mindless, pointless homework, or IM their lives away, then we need to build in some forced active time for them. In Australia, it just seemed to be a part of life. There were people running through the botanical gardens at all hours of the day, many of whom looked like they should be on one of their Olympic teams. From my own experience, it takes a while to get to that point where you simply exercise every day. It needs to become routine so that these kids and their fat-ass parents think of it as a necessary, even enjoyable part of their day, as opposed to something that is both hated and unnecessary. Additionally, we need to emphasize the endorphin boost that you get after exercise, which these people only currently know from biting into that second Big Mac. I promise if you pick an exercise routine and stick with it for at least two weeks, YOU WILL FEEL BETTER!

Genetics are not an excuse. My brother and I clearly inherited some of our genes from our dad's side of the family, which almost universally struggles with weight loss and gain. That doesn't stop us from now eating (relatively) healthily, working out, and getting in pretty good shape. Too many people see one or both of their fat parents and think “well, nothing I can do about it. Might as well just eat and 'be happy.'” This is so wrong, it's laughable. Generally, what these people inherit are their parents' eating habits, not their “genetics.” Fat people eat shitty food and do little to no activity. Consequently, their kids often do the same. If you're a fat parent, set a positive example for your kids by making a commitment to get in shape. “It's too hard” isn't an excuse. “I don't have enough time” isn't either. This is your life I'm talking about here. It may be shitty now, but there's no reason that can't start changing tomorrow.
For the few people that actually do have a “thyroid condition” or other “glandular problem,” get medical help. Everyone on your medical plan and your insurers would gladly pay for whatever procedure is necessary so that they don't have to share the burden on your quadruple bypass at age forty. This generally doesn't have to do with genetics, but rather some discreet problem with the endocrine system. Your doctor can help, and if for some reason he can't or doesn't want to, find another one who will. Life is too short to spend it fat, unhappy, and wishing you were someone else. Believe me, I know.

Any other suggestions on how to trim down America (which hopefully don't involve The Biggest Loser)? Leave them in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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