There is a potentially controversial article in today's Sunday Times (UK) about obesity. The article postulates that fatness and obesity are directly related to poverty and ignorance. That rich, educated people are rarely fat. Also in the article is this:
Obese means not just podgy, but dangerously, disablingly, distastefully fat, as in American fat.
I have to admit to having a chuckle when I read that. And for full disclosure I am an expat Brit living in the US. And I love the US so it is not a sleight on this country, but no one can deny the preponderance of vast, humongous people shaking the sidewalk as they walk along. Those who actually do walk anywhere, that is. And, as the article itself shows, Britain is not immune from this problem. In fact, they are probably second only to the US. But the US certainly must have a problem for Americans to be used as examples whenever the conversation turns to obesity. Not just in this article, but whenever I travel outside this country I find the topic comes up an inordinate number of times. "Oh, you live in America, isn't everyone beastly and fat over there?" To which, after today's article, I can now respond "No, only the poor, stupid ones apparently."
I have two main points I want to consider. First, is the article's theory true? Second, are the parents of obese kids stupid or evil? As for the first point, I am leaning towards it being half true. Or maybe three quarters. Half true because I buy the notion that the poor find it harder to eat healthily on a purely financial basis. Three quarters because I don't think that ignorance or lack of education plays that large a role. But it does play some role, so I'm accounting for a bit of stupidity in there with the poverty.
We shop at Whole Foods (a healthy, largely organic food supermarket) and Publix (a major supermarket chain). And it is patently obvious upon simply perusing the receipts that when we do a weekly shop at Whole Foods we are paying around $100 more than when we do it at Publix. Healthy, natural foods are more expensive than processed crap. I recently heard an old lady in the checkout line explaining, as though ashamed since no one had asked her, that she was buying a loaf of 20 cent supermarket-brand white bread because it was all she could afford. There is no doubt that it is cheaper to eat like shit. It is also easier, especially if you go for the fast food option ahead of cooking your own cheap, unhealthy crap. It occurs to me that there is also a laziness factor involved here which no doubt goes hand in hand with the "no exercise" cause of obesity. Better to drag yourself into the car and drive two blocks for a super-sized quadruple cheeseburger than to walk to the kitchen and have to stand there making, or zapping, something. But yes, coming back from my tangent, lower incomes certainly play a part. But lower education?
On that one I'm torn. On one side of the question, I have a few friends myself who, though not obese, could stand to shed a few dozen pounds. And most of these are highly intellectual, college-educated people in very successful careers. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are smarter than me, but they would. They are well-off and clever, so where do they come into the equation? And on the inverse side of the same query, if stupidity played any part in fatness, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan would be like a pod of blue whales. So I'm not sure I can agree on that. The one quarter fraction that I gave to the ignorance side of the theory comes for those people out there, and I suppose there must be some, who are so ignorant that still now they don't realize that eating crap and living on the sofa results in a couple of extra pounds gained. But other than that I don't believe that any lack of education allows you to never stumble across the information that eating fast food and other crap might be somewhat detrimental to your figure.
Now for part two. Are the parents of obese kids stupid or evil? I believe that these are your only choices. And I'm not talking about anyone who is obese through some kidney condition or any other ill-health or accident. Or even those cases that do exist where the obesity is hereditary. I am talking about obese kids, seemingly nearly always the product of obese parents, made that way by their bad diet. Parents have full and total control over what their small children ingest, from infancy through to at least early teens. Maybe before that they get the chance to sneak the odd candy bar here or there at a friend's house, but obesity comes from a long campaign of overfeeding crap to your children. So, does this happen out of moronic ignorance or plain Beelzebub-worshiping evil? For surely the obese parents are all too well aware of whatever unpleasantness life throws at an obese person. From whatever personal feelings of discomfort, to actual fatness-induced illnesses or diseases, to the mockery of cruel children, to the difficulties of getting around in one's day-to-day life. There may be exceptions, but I would be enormously surprised to hear any obese person turn down an offer from a well-meaning genie to turn them into a healthy, fit, thin person. That just wouldn't happen. And that being the case, any loving obese parent, who by definition as a parent would want the very best life possible for their child, is not going to want their child to grow up obese themselves, with a catalog of obesity-related diseases. According to the Times article, two thirds of diabetes cases in Britain are of the avoidable type 2 associated with obesity. Also, obesity increases your risk of having major illnesses, such as stroke, heart disease, some types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Clearly no parent wants that for their child. So, all that said, I now state that any parent who knows the effects of a bad diet and yet still stuffs their children so much and so often that they become obese at such a young age is either irretrievably stupid - they really don't know the effect that their diet will have - or unconscionably evil - they know but still willingly opt to give their children a shorter and more unpleasant life than they otherwise could and should have had.