America has a Serious Weight Problem, But Is ‘Fat Shaming’ the Cure?
Americans are born and bred on famous products like Big Macs, Slurpees and Cheetos, to the point that junk food has been elevated to an art form. But in this age of political correctness, is mocking fat people a good idea?
As an American living abroad, it’s hard not to feel a sense of shame when the United States looks bad, really bad, on the world stage. It’s even worse when we crush the world stage to splinters just by standing on it. Yet, as citizens of the so-called ‘indispensable nation,’ we rarely admit to our faults, or allow outsiders to draw attention to them. Indeed, America’s sense of self-worth and gift of navel-gazing is world renowned, which is very ironic since many of us are so fat we can’t find our navels.
While it’s hardly breaking news that Americans are now engaged in an epic battle of the bulge, what is truly astounding is how widespread the problem has become. Obesity in the land of Golden Arches has exploded by 70% over the last three decades for adults and by 85% over the same time period for children. Today, almost 100 million Americans are clinically obese. Yet, it seems the more that Americans address the problem – remember Michele Obama’s disastrous school lunch program? – the worse the situation becomes. We just yawn and stretch and loosen the belt to accommodate the bursting national waistline.
In 2015, for example, a man from Rhode Island was so heavy – 1,000 pounds, or 453 kg – that authorities needed to use an industrial crane to move him out of the nursing home where he was residing.
Such fantastic stories are no longer as rare as they once were. I learned this on a recent trip back to the US, when I chanced upon a middle-aged man in a supermarket who was so heavy that he needed an electric cart to wheel himself around the store, and recklessly fast I might add. It was the first time I had seen such a thing. I regret to say my sympathy for this person quickly vanished when I saw that most of the items in his basket consisted of high-processed junk food, as well as bottles of high-calorie carbonated beverages to wash it all down. How is it possible, I thought, to feel sorry for someone who is forced to use a mechanical contraption to get around, yet refuses to see any connection between their physical plight and the poor diet they are on?
At this point, however, I had to pause and rethink my criticism. Was this individual suffering from some sort of chronic disease that made losing weight impossible? Perhaps he was suffering from a thyroid affliction. Another possible explanation was that this guy was suffering from deep depression, maybe due to some profound personal tragedy, and his only relief came through the ‘coping mechanism’ of consuming food. Or maybe he was simply living out his life exactly the way he wanted to, without any regrets, and despite the fact that it required him to use an electric buggy to get around town. He may justify his condition by saying, ‘It’s my business how I live my life, leave me alone.’
Yet, such a carefree attitude doesn’t make the problem any less worrisome for the US government. The New York Times recently summed up America’s health crisis in two words: “our food.” In fact, poor diet – not guns, terrorism or car accidents – is the leading cause of mortality in the US.
The total economic cost of obesity, when cardiovascular disease ($351 billion) and diabetes ($327 billion) are factored in, comes out to an estimated $1.72 trillion annually, or 9.3 percent of gross domestic product.
Those mind-blowing stats are placing a huge strain on the US healthcare industry at a time when sick and obese alike are struggling to pay their hefty medical bills. As healthcare costs rise in direct proportion to the increase in obesity rates, who is going to pick up the tab?
So, if obesity is a problem in need of a solution, what is the best approach?
US talk show host Bill Maher stirred up a heated debate which extended across the Atlantic Ocean, when he suggested that the US should start “fat shaming” again in order to combat the growing obesity epidemic.
“In August, 53 Americans died from mass shootings,” Maher began in a highly derogatory monologue. “Do you know how many died from obesity? 40,000. Fat shaming doesn’t need to end; it needs to make a comeback.”
Many people would agree with that straightforward, gloves off approach, but in these touchy days of political correctness and social justice lunacy, it would probably fail. After all, even Weight Watchers, the decades-old organization devoted to helping millions of people lose weight, was forced to change its name to just ‘WW’ due to negative associations with dieting.
“It’s not surprising that Weight Watchers is distancing itself from dieting,” Vox reported last year. “Talking openly about dieting is becoming taboo, and the body positivity movement is on the rise.”
So, now it appears that the US is confronting a dire situation that could be considered nothing less than a real national emergency. Yet, due to the stifling atmosphere of political correctness, even mentioning the name of the problem has become taboo.
Will Americans be willing to listen to discussions about the hazards connected to overeating, or will such efforts go the way of Michelle Obama’s school lunch programs? Will corporations become more proactive and start offering healthier food options to consumers? Would McDonald’s go out of business if they went the vegan route? Or perhaps a tax increase on high-calorie products, like sugary soda drinks, will curb America’s seemingly insatiable desire for unhealthy foods? Thus far, such governments efforts for addressing the problem have met with mixed results.
In the end, will comics like Bill Maher, who think that ‘fat shaming’ people back into shape is a great idea, have the last laugh? Is this the only way to make a fiercely PC culture heed vital advice, when it is delivered like bitter medicine in a heaping spoonful of unabashed and tasteless criticism? If all else fails, America may be in for a revolt against political correctness in order to save it from ultimate physical collapse.
By Robert Bridge