Tuesday, February 8, 2011

America Needs to Talk About This!

  • Fact: Diet books have topped the best-seller lists for 20 years or more.
  • Fact: Unrealistically skinny and buff body images have been presented as "ideal" for four decades.
  • Fact: While Americans increasingly consume diet books and purchase gym memberships, the average BMI has been climbing steadily. Obesity rates continue to increase dramatically. 
BRANDON - Yesterday, researching a story for the Tampa Tribune, I enjoyed an illuminating conversation with a woman who has reclaimed her life after several decades of out of control eating. She came to a point where she realized she was quite literally killing herself, and she made the decision to reject obesity. She sought help, lost over 50% of her body weight, and turned her life around a full 180.

Brandon Regional Hospital's Bariatric Program coordinator joined us for the conversation (Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity).

Typically, I don't blog these interviews. But I'm doing so today for a couple of reasons.
  • First, I'm going to say some things in this venue I shouldn't/won't say in the newspaper. My regular Tribune feature is not an "opinion" column - my blog gives me more freedom to draw unsettling conclusions.
  • Then, there are some obvious tie-ins to my general philosophy that I'm anxious to point out. Again, my "Community Profile" piece in the paper isn't the venue for that.
You may have noted - in the opening paragraph - that I wrote "decision to reject obesity." But haven't we all heard the following ideas expressed in various ways?
  • "Being overweight is not a choice - it's who I am."
  • "Many people have a metabolism that's responsible for weight gain." 
  • "He has glandular issues." 
  • "She's big-boned." 
  • "It's genetics - the whole family are severely overweight and they simply can't help it." 
  • And  my personal favorite - "Skinny people shouldn't tell other people how they should live...."
I asked my new friends to comment. This - in a nutshell - is what they told me: There is no reasonable explanation for obesity outside of lifestyle. Yes, it's harder for some people than others. Yes, there are medical triggers that stack the deck against maintaining a healthy weight. Yes, genetics, and body type, and illness, and family history, and injuries etc. all play a role in determining how simple or how complex it is to eat well and exercise appropriately.

But - and this is a huge caveat - we can say that obesity in America is predominantly a lifestyle disease. Being overweight is almost 100% unnecessary, and it is - this is the good news - almost always correctable given the correct motivation, support and resources to follow through.

Listen - and this is important - we're not discussing aesthetics here. No-one has the right to make judgements according to social preferences that are based on appearance, weight or any other arbitrary guideline. That is shallow to the extreme and we should all reject it.

Instead, this is actually a conversation about health. The "BMI" (Body Mass Index) is a very useful predictor of a wide-range of medical complications. For the morbidly obese, these are know as "co-morbidities". These include the following: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, repository disease, joint pain, orthopedic issues, dermatological problems, gastric ailments.... Then there are issues such as length of hospitalization, recovery from surgery, complications during surgery, mobility, rehab challenges etc....

The above paragraph is just a starting point. I have interviewed doctors, therapists, hospital administrators, recovering patients, bariatric program professionals, surgeons, exercise gurus, nutritionists, pharmacists and others. Without exception all of these folk testify that the "Health-Care Crisis" as we know it today would virtually disappear if obesity in America was eliminated.

How about this? If we all took a few rudimentary steps and made the decision to live healthy lifestyles with a real emphasis on keeping our BMI in the 19-26 range, then America would suddenly find itself with both the professional resources and the funding to provide free and appropriate health care to all who live within our borders.

The bottom line: Simply put, this is not a conversation about my right to live how I choose, or your right to feed your kids a steady diet of donuts, coke and pizza. No, this is a conversation about public health, about living in a manner that honors our creation and our Creator, and about the unreasonable cost - to everyone - of chronic obesity in America.

OK - so I've run out of space for today. I'll pick this up again tomorrow....

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