Fighting the fat of the land

We just fester with prejudice. As deep-seated as racial and sexual biases are, at least we’re dealing with them, and most of us understand that they’re wrong. But when it comes to our intolerance of weight, we don’t give a second thought. Our body bigotry is so ingrained that we consider it completely acceptable to make fun of fat people and to consider those who are overweight to be lesser people. What’s really ridiculous is that the contempt is aimed at an awful lot of us.

A brand-new study tallies the rate of obesity in the United States at nearly a third of the population, over 87 million Americans. Not only do all of us suffer terrible hits to our self-esteem (yes, I’ve struggled with weight my entire life, which is why I have such strong feelings about the issue), but there are the physical dangers of that excess poundage: diabetes, heart problems, cancer, the list goes on. Obesity itself is a disease, often brought on by an addiction not just to food but, more insidiously, to the toxic concoctions the processors prepare and constantly advertise. Their products are loaded with salt, sugar, fat and other ingredients that are designed to hook us, with little attention paid to the public health consequences.

Any attempts to intervene are crushed by the conglomerates that make massive profits by pushing their narcotic morsels on us. They particularly target our children. Woe be to the political figure who tries to intervene. Just ask Michelle Obama.

One would think that the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign and its stated goal of helping our young people get fit would not be all that controversial. Of course, anything with the Obama name attached to it will be controversial; the Republicans and the wealthy selfish interests will see to that. But if we lived in a logical world, an ideal place to begin with good nutrition would be the school cafeteria. What would make more sense than replacing unhealthy fare with healthy? No deep-fried stuff, no empty calories. Instead, offer up tasty, nutritious choices.

But the manufacturers and purveyors of the bad stuff don’t like that. So they’ve enlisted their GOP buddies in Congress to take “Let’s Move” and stop it dead in its tracks.

Educators -- some of them, anyway -- have been recruited to complain that the kiddies just won’t eat their veggies and fruits. They want pizza with tomato sauce to be declared a vegetable. Their resistance is amplified in Washington by school-nutrition associations who claim laudable purpose until you look closely and discover that a bulk of their financing comes from industry. That’s all the House Republicans need. So now they’re trying to pass legislation that would allow local districts to get a waiver from requirements that they serve healthy meals. Pardon the pun, but that would gut the campaign.

Wouldn’t a better idea be for them to work harder to come up with taste-pleasing and creative ways to offer selections that students like even though they’re good for them?

To her credit, Ms. Obama is fighting back -- or, in this case, writing back. There she was on The New York Times op-ed page telling us that “Our kids deserve so much more than this.” She was referring to the usual game that our politicians play where the well-being of citizens is completely ignored.

Obesity is right up there with cigarette smoking when it comes to habits that can kill us, habits that are incredibly difficult to break. Certainly, one has to admire Chris Christie’s willingness to struggle with his obesity, and cheer him on.

Clearly, though, the better way would be to develop healthy eating routines in our children, which, along with encouraging exercise is what “Let’s Move” is about. The question is, Will it survive the Washington swamp? You know the answer: Fat chance.

 

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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