Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sizing Up the "Obesity Epidemic"

First point:

You wanna know what an "epidemic" is? The Bubonic Plague of the 1340's. That's an epidemic. It came, so to speak, out of nowhere, and killed 75 MILLION human beings, including around half of the European population.

The Spanish Flu outbreak after World War I was another epidemic. It killed many tens of millions of people, possibly as many as 100 million, around the world.

"Epidemic", at least until the last couple of decades, was always a special word reserved for referring to a sudden outbreak, or increase in, the incidence of a particular disease. As such, the word was very useful. Now it has become just another victim of "word definition inflation" by, presumably, people who don't want to hurt the feelings of obese people, or perhaps, by obese people themselves who can't bear the horror of actually taking responsibility for their obesity, and so must imagine that they are as little to blame for adding one hundred extra pounds to their frames, as 19th century London street urchins were for falling dead after inadvertently drinking contaminated water. And there's something really wrong with that.

Obesity is caused by overeating - and overeating is a bad habit. It's not a "disease". One may be predisposed genetically to obesity (see article here); one may experience thyroid gland malfunction; but regardless, obesity requires eating far too much relative to one's expenditure of energy for prolonged periods of time. That is just a fact.

Second point:

But bad habits, including obesity, per se aren't the end of the world, are they? Everyone has them; most are just not as obvious as obesity. And why a collection of schoolboard control freaks, bureaucrats, media people with nothing better to write about, and health food Nazis should care so much about the bad habit of gluttony - versus, say, the bad habit of trying to tell everyone else on the planet exactly how they should live - is quite beyond me. As long as we're not paying for their food or medical bills, and we're not forced by government to hire them to do jobs (like chimney sweeping, rodeo clowning, or teaching gymnastics) which their obesity has rendered them incapable of performing, who cares if they're obese? It's not like they don't know that obesity is bad for them. So why not leave them alone?

I like to stay fit myself, but I'm also sick of hearing about a "disease" which isn't really a disease, and an "epidemic" which isn't really an epidemic, and endless haranguing about how unhealthy obesity is when everyone already knows it, and obese people obviously don't value fitness enough to begin eating and exercising properly. What is there to talk about really anymore?


erlybird said...

As with your dismissal of human activity being the partial/major cause of Global Warming in a post a few months back...I think you are missing the point. Yes, people should know without being told that sitting in front of the TV, getting as fat an antique armoire, stuffing their face with HoHos, is a really bad thing to do. Yes, maybe calling something that is primarily a choice an "epidemic" is semantically incorrect. And, maybe it is VERY important to NOT belittle people who look down find that they are obese and unhealthy but to encourage them to not give up on an active lifestyle. But to just sit back and let it happen to both kids and adults alike without doing our damnedest to continually point it out as a severe problem and ultimately a danger to society as a whole is simply irresponsible.

Tal said...


Why do you think that obese people pose a "danger to society"? And how exactly do you propose, while abiding by the limited-government constraints of liberal democracy, to "not let obesity happen"?

How many steps from those sorts of sentiments to early rationales for control-freak statism, or maybe even fascism?

Doesn't being a "small l" liberal require more of a live and let live attitude?

Greg Watson said...

From the Canadian Oxford:

Epidemic n. & adj. 1 a widespread occurence of a disease in a community at a particular time. 2 a wide prevalence of something usually undesirable. adj. 1 in the nature of an epidemic. 2 widespread; prevalent.

I understand your point; however, there are other words that better suit your objection on grounds of misuse than does "epidemic."

erlybird said...

LOL. Fascism? Tal, haven't you seem Wall-E? Geez, get with it.

I am not sure at what point the populous being too fat will be undeniably "a danger to society" and I am not sure if focusing on the problem should take a priority to other issues like making sure we are prepared to combat a killer virus, Global Warming or even rampant religious stupidism...but that point does exist.

And I am not arguing that we need to return to some sort of "good old days" when folks were fit because they didn't watch TV or drive everywhere they went. It may be that we are healthier now than we ever have been. Still, it does not excuse us from trying, with logical, encouraging, inspiring, communal, yes, government-backed programs to get people to change their ways. It has worked with smoking. It can work with over eating and lack of exercise too.

Again...to try is not fascism or big "L" Liberalism or beyond the bounds of reasonable government...and to sit around and not even try is just lazy in itself.

Anonymous said...

I had a gastric bypass like your father and I can tell you that many people ,like myself and your Dad, don't have a sense of feeling full.This is a fact and so we have to eventually(After trying just about, or really everything)have to get help to take it out of our hands.I exercised for an hour,sometimes two per day EVERYDAY(step aerobics) for years and ate very little,yet I couldn't lose weight.I also couldn't take starving muself for more than a couple of days as it made me feel so ill.

Your comment is insulting and very narrow in your thinking.Wait til you get older or have thyroid problems.I know,everybody says they have that ,right,as an excuse.I Do have thyroid problems and had to have a tumor taken out of my thyroid and my parathyroids removed.There is so much behind the scenes that is causing obesity and encouragement and support is what is needed. Chistine.

Tal said...

Not sure what your point is, Christine/Anonymous. That you acknowledge that the drastic reduction in the size of your stomach, which drastically reduced your food intake, was the cause of your loss of body fat, means that you and I agree: obesity requires sustained overeating relative to energy expenditure. And it's no wonder we agree - that is just a fact.

So why are my comments narrow, but yours not, when you and I agree on a fact that no sane person could ever dispute?

Tal said...

Oh yeah - one more thing, Christine.

I do support fat people, in the sense that I don't go around, unlike the busybodies that erlybird seems to like, hectoring them, insinuating that they pose "a danger to society", and embarrassing them in front of their classmates at school during the government anti-obesity "one true type of person" propaganda movies they show now. I couldn't actually care less if, once informed about the relationship between bad diet, overeating, exercise, and obesity, some people want to keep (over)eating. It's really up to every individual. Look at Jack Black - being fat has been a very lucrative career choice for him. I've no doubt his career would plummet if he lost 100 pounds. In fact, I'd get that fat myself if doing so would make me millions of dollars every year.

So...a friendly arm in private by a concerned friend or guardian, sure; some smug, bullying, institution-driven, all-out political or societal assault on "obesity", no. How about we get the frigging crackheads and rapists off the street, and deal with about eight zillion other more important things, instead of worrying about some lady who ate four Big Macs yesterday? Who cares?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your main point Tal. But I really do not believe that all fat people are fat because they ate 4 big macs, or stuff their face with twinkies, or never get off their asses. The FACT is that obesity is a complex situation. It isn't JUST calories in/enery expenditure...there are so so many other factors that play a part. I'm fat, I'm active, I almost never have 2nd helpings of anything except salad. I'm not going to go into detail why losing weight seems to be such an ordeal or why my body responds to food and exercise the way it does. However, the only times in my life I've been thin was at 14 when I starved myself and became anorexic, and again at 25 when I went on a liquid diet and didn't eat for three monthes. Even then, it was presumed I was cheating because I lost half as fast as many others in the group, and I was consuming 500 calories a day in liquid, and working out daily. I believe there will be alot more studies that come out that testify to the complexities of weight gain and management, and why some people do not burn and use food metabolically in the same way.
Even people that have bypass surgeries will often tell you that in order to lost that 100 pounds they had to shrink their stomach so much so that they eat very very small amounts of food in order to lose weight. Once they start eating even normal portions, sometimes the weight returns.
As a fat person, it just bugs the hell out of me that people look at me and think they are witnessing "my very bad habit". I have thin friends that eat far more than I do. I can lose weight if I'm a total food Nazi...and maybe I should..some people just have to work harder at looking "normal". But, I know I and many other fat people DO NOT sit around eating all day.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed Christine's point ,Tal.She is saying that she ate very little and couldn't lose weight.She still required surgery to help her.If you eat too few calories trying to lose weight,your body goes into starvation defense mode and you can eat only 500 cals per day and still not lose weight.Sometimes you even put it on.
Gastric bypass patients stomach's are left the size of a thumb,but as annon says,if they eat a normal amount of calories for a "normal" person,they will put on weight very quickly.Exercise is a huge part in weight loss and Christine said she did that every day.Exercise helped your weight loss too.Eating late at night put 15lbs on me.Can't wear those cals of when you are sleeping.

Draper Phil said...

Tal, I don't disagree with any point in your fine summary. I did have a thought though: I'm hearing a lot lately that in the next 10-20 years, the human life expectancy in America is going to turn downward sharply, apparently for the first time ever, because of obesity. That is going to translate to significantly premature deaths numbering in the many millions. Just a thought.


~Jen~ said...

I honestly began reading this post convinced I would be offended somehow by the end but, shockingly, I was not.

As a fatty, I own it. I got this way quite on my own. It is not as simple as "I sat in front of the tv and ate ding dongs for 12 yrs and suddenly ARGG! I was fat" Nothing so simple as that.

The bottom line is intake and expenditure...but that simplicity while correct is not the truth for many overweight people. There is nothing simple about depression, self-medicating, self-loathing, ignorance, and good ol' pain.

Fat folk are not anymore messed up than thin folk, they just chose a more obvious way to try to feel better.
Factor in physiological and psychological issues and well...you get the point.

If people worked on being less asshole-ish to other people about things such as appearance/weight the world would be a better place.

We live in a gluttonous culture, we are brainwashed daily to consume, be it cars, gadgets or food. In all actuality, fat people have exceptional famine-ready bodies. We store fat at a fabulous rate in order to survive....ok now I am just being a smart ass.

Bottom line is: people should worry less about my lard and concentrate more on their own lives and behaviors.