August 29, 2007

Fat and Getting Fatter

(Photo courtesy of Plan 59)

You probably saw the headlines a couple of days ago, though you may have already forgotten them, because the message is depressingly familiar. Americans Fatter Than Ever, they keep saying.

This summary of the Trust for America obesity report has an interactive map (if you scroll down a bit) so you can click on your state to see how well it stacks up. (Or, well, out). The three states with the highest percentages of obesity are:

Mississippi - 30.6%;

West Virginia - 29.8 %; and

Alabama - 29.4%.

As opposed to the "best" states, which are:

Colorado - 17.6 %;

Massachusetts - 19.8%; and

Vermont - 20%.

Way to go Colorado! Well, at least for now. Because Colorado is getting fatter too--like most other states, their rates increased over last year's.

The report also tracked overweight kids for the first time, ages 10 to 17. The District of Columbia had the highest percentage (tsk, D.C.!) at 22.8%, and Utah had the lowest at 8.5 percent.

Now a previous CDC study had put national adult obesity rates even higher, at 32%. Does this mean we've lost weight since then? Well, no. In that study, they actually weighed people. This current report used a phone survey. Care to make an educated guess which one might be more accurate? "Ma'am? We're doing an obesity study, can you please tell me exactly how much you weigh?"

Lack of exercise is one of the culprits. The CDC found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. This rose to 30 percent in Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. But just head to any mall food court and observe for a while--there are plenty of other factors involved, and these tend to be battered and fried and sugar-coated and jelly-filled and grilled and Supersized and smeared with mayo and piled with extra cheese.

So we've had another year of Speeches and Awareness Campaigns and Fussing and Wailing and Breast-Beating about Obesity, but it seems to have done little good. At least as far as the general population goes. Oh sure, there is the occasional victory when a school updates its vending machines or a big corporation starts up a fitness program. But from top to bottom our culture is almost Totally Screwed Up About health and fitness and does not appear to changing--at least not in the right direction.

(For just one example, take this appalling quiz, spotted by Lady Rose at Diet Pulpit.)

So this is just more useless Wailing, because the people who visit Cranky Fitness are those who read health and fitness blogs to begin with. Even if you have made mistakes in the past, or have crappy metabolisms and are struggling with weight issues, you are most likely not the folks who are ordering Triple Bacon Burgers and quaffing 1200 calorie milkshakes and refusing to walk any further than it takes to get from your couch to the car to drive it to Pizza Hut.

Nor are you the developers who are planning more communities with no running trails, parks, bicycle paths, or even sidewalks. You're not the parents who are stuffing your children full of sugar and transfats and plopping them in front of the T.V. to sit for hours at a time. You aren't the bureaucrats who declare candy bars a healthy snack food for kids. You're not the restaurant owners who refuse to include whole grains on the menu, limit vegetables to a few leaves of Iceberg lettuce, and drown everything in butter.

This post is really for the people not reading it right now.

And sure, all this stuff is hard, and harder when you're poor and overworked and underprivileged. But some people don't even seem to be trying, at all. And many of you here are struggling financially. And you're busy and tired and the last thing you feel like doing is exercising or making a meal using healthy whole foods at the end of a long day, when a bucket of fried chicken might taste just fine and is whole lot easier to come by.

But you try your best most days anyway and grumble when you can't find nonfat milk or fresh fruit at your company cafeteria because no one else but you seems to want it.

So what the hell, for the people not reading this, we're going to yell at you even if you can't hear us.

Take Care of Yourselves and You'll Feel Better! Eat More Healthy Stuff and Less Crap! Get Your Butts Off the Couch and Exercise! Teach Your Kids to Do All This Stuff Too!

Ah, that was quite satisfying to let loose. But Fat lot of good it will do.


  1. Good post, Crabby. Yes, you probably are preaching to the choir, but you have motivated me into an early(ish) morning walk. I'd hire you as my trainer, but considering you're a crab, it would have to be umm.. a lateral move. ;)

  2. This is so depressing. We have declared a war on drugs, why not declare a war on obesity? Of course I write this as all four members of my family are overweight and out of shape. The problem as I see it is that in this country it is easier to be fat and slothful than it is to be fit and weigh an a appropriate amount. Americans have gotten terribly lazy as a culture and always taking the easy way out. Until our attitutde changes about working hard, the American dream has become hitting the lottery or winning a lawsuit, getting everything for cheaper than they would be willing to be paid to produce it and....oh sorry, I am on a terrible rant

  3. As long as crap is cheaper than real food, and we are subjected to advertising that suggests "name of crapfood here*" is part of a healthy, nutritious breakfast, then we are going to get fatter and fatter and not understand why.

    *This appalls me no end. The words are spoken so fast that all we register are "Crispy-coated Sugar Flakes ... nutritious breakfast."

    And we're conditioned to be lazy, too. Common laborers are looked down on while people who use only their brains are worshipped. Nothing wrong with mind work, of course, I simply point out that if we stop aspiring to use only our brains to earn out keep we'd be in better shape.

  4. Whoa, I completely failed on that junk food test (but I guess it's a good failure). Uh. Apalling, indeed. Maybe I shouldn't whine that much about my own country... Hum.

  5. To be honest, I got a little choked up when I read this post. So true. I feel like I'm fighting a war when it comes to my kids and eating.

  6. Cock-A-Doodle-Do!!

    (You know who's rooster says:"Time to wake up!")

  7. It's so difficult too, because you have to walk such a fine line when talking to people about their diets and exercise regimens - my mother goes over the top and tries to press her healthy agenda on everyone and just ends up pissing people off. But it's hard to get some of the lazy people (who could afford to eat well but either are too lazy or just don't know how) to understand what's good for them (and tastes good too!) without coming off as sounding like you think your way is the only way that's right.

    That quiz was definitely appalling. By the end I was just asking myself which food was worse for me, and selecting that as the best, and getting them right. Very depressing.

  8. I saw a child at the mall food court the other day order a double burger meal with large fries and shake and eat it all herself. She couldn't have been older than 12 and must've been at least 30 lb overweight...already. And her Mom just smiled as she ate it.
    Shouldn't parents be teaching their kids how to live healthier? It could spark a whole new generation of healthier people...

    I worry that soon we won't know what healthy IS.
    I keep hearing from my coworkers that they'd love to exercise more or eat healthier or cook fro themselves more but they just don't have the time. How can you not have time for yourself...not ever.
    Scares me more than a bit.

  9. Everyone says that money is an issue, but I wonder. Is really a normally sized serving of healthy food more expensive than the usually oversized serving of unhealthy food? Onions and cabbage are really cheap, and an occasional steak doesn't cost much in the US. At least take a normal serving of the unhealthy stuff, and you're already better off! If, on top of food cost, you count the health care bills and petrol for the car (instead of a cheap bike), I wonder what lifestyle costs less money (not to mention which one is more joyful!)

    I think that a bit of laziness and a lot of ignorance that are the main culprits, not the wallet.

  10. Hilary,
    Ah shameless punning, the best way to start off the comment process--I love it!

    I totally agree about the cultural laziness here in the U.S.--you see it not only physically but intellectually as well. Not a terrible rant at all, just the truth!

    Leah, excellent points! Although it seems like even physical laborers are often overweight, at least in the U.S.!

    And gosh, what a good time for the blogher ads Snack Chips (or whatever they are) to appear! A bit of an embarrassing juxtaposition. At least they've got fruit in 'em or something. But geez, timing...

    I got madder and madder taking that thing! It's truly insane.

    It must be so hard with kids! They get exposed to all these influences and have a hard time understanding why the don't get to have what 'all the other' kids get, even if the 'other kids' are being slowly poisoned! Good for you for fighting the battle.

    Dr. J,
    Way to segue from the previous post! :)

    Yeah, I can see where your mom's coming from (I'm sort of known as a "health freak" despite my cupcake consumption) but you can't really do more for other people other than offer a healthy example and hope they ask questions about why you're choosing the foods you are. Otherwise, you're right, you just end up pissing them off and they don't change their behavior anyway.

    Yeah isn't that disturbing to see kids whose parents are right there eating like that? It almost seems like Child Neglect. And I'm with you--it's scary to think people have NO time to take care of their health--or that their priorities are so mixed up they don't think they do.

    That's a really good point about the true cost of unhealthy eating! And you're right, there are a lot of healthy foods that don't cost much, like beans (especially in bulk) and brown rice and unfashionable vegetables like cabbage. Even some meat is cheap! But most people prefer the taste and convenience of junk food.

  11. Every week I tell myself: "Monday, wednesday, friday. I AM going to my cousin's gym after work, and I WILL run for forty minutes and lift for forty more."

    And then I don't.

    The problem with physical exercise is that when you first get into it it's just...not pleasant. I first started working out back when I was living in Japan and, due to gaps my class schedule and the impracticality of taking a train back to my apartment during them, had a huge block of empty time every day. Our campus had a workout room; I decided, what the hell, it was better than wasting every moment on the internet.

    At first it Sucked. It sucked and furthermore was Not Fun. I would leave panting and unhappy every day. But as I continued, got slimmer, got stronger, I started lookin' forward to it--and even went on a few runs by my apartment complex late at night, too.

    Then I got back to America and was Busy again, and since then I've barely made a dent in my horrid state of fitness. I'm not all that fat, but my BMI is high, and I worry about my heart (high cholesterol runs in my family)...and yet, I can't seem to get over those unpleasant first few exercise sessions.

    At least I know there's eventually something to look forward to. I bet most of the Americans who never do any physical activity just assume exercising will always be an unpleasant, painful, gross ordeal.

    In short: damn.

  12. "This post is really for the people not reading it right now"
    Hahaha... That's a great line. Great site!

  13. I've actually started to cook more as my pregnancy has gone on and it seems to me that if you have a reasonable food budget ($150-$200 a month for 2 people), you can make healthy meals. Even a sandwich can be healthy!

    Having said that, I do understand the other side of the argument. For six months, my best friend (and roommate at the time) and I spent $50-$75 a MONTH on food. At that level, you worry about getting the most food for your dollar. Unfortunately, the 'most food' is crap food much of the time.

    My main motivation for getting back into shape is our soon-to-be-born kiddo (OMG! MY DUE DATE'S IN 5 WEEKS??!!). I know I won't reach my goals overnight (or in 6 weeks, or likely even in 6 months) and I know it'll be REALLY hard, but I'm committed to doing it. I'm scared to death of being a fat mom and I never want our child to be a fat kid like I was (unlikely given his father's genes, but you never know).

    And that test? Doesn't that make you want to pack a lunch for SOMEONE ELSE'S kid?? It's bad enough that many schools have cut (or will cut) PE programs and recess for more standardized test preparation. Crap food + no exercise + sitting in class for 6-7 hours a day + more homework = Fat Kids.

  14. Re: Geosomin's comment, it reminded me how we went in a "WTF?" fit the other day at McDonald's, looking at the so-called 'nutritional information sheets' on our platters. It proudly displayed a 536 calories for a Happy Meal. I'd be ashamed to feed that quantity for so little a nutritious value to an adult, lest to a child... knowing that I can whip up a much, much better and healthier meal for less calories (and that's including rice or pasta). Yuck. No wonder people get fatter and fatter if even those tiny portion contain that much, uh, fattening energy.

  15. i can NOT believe the food they deem NOT to be junk food in the US - what are we serving to our poor little kiddlings?!

  16. Preaching to the choir, sure, but at the same time, there are probably people that we all know that fall into this category and could use some help. Make something healthy but tasty for them to show them that eating healthy doesn't have to be just carrot sticks and oatmeal. Go for a walk with them-- show that small steps are the best start, and that the hardest part often is getting off the sofa.

    And yes, for people with lower incomes, it can be very difficult to afford healthy food. Yes, cabbage and potatoes are cheap, but people need variety-- you can get a whole lot of crappy food at, say, $1.50 for a meal (little pasta mixes or canned soup or a box of Twinkies). Trust me, I'm trying to get through a 5 lb bag of potatoes on my own before it goes bad because it's cheap. (Grad school student.) Plus, people who have lower incomes usually work more manual-labor jobs or are on their feet, or work more than one job-- these people don't want to come home and cook. It's easier to pop a TV dinner in the microwave or stop by a pizza place on the way home (as I'm sure most people can identify with). Until real food becomes cheaper and the disparity between classes improves, it will only get worse.

  17. Hitting the gym tonight...please send painfree thoughts my way.

  18. Whoa, Lisa, please tell me where you're shopping for food if you can get good healthy food for $150-$200/mo for two people!

    I attempt to keep my weekly food shopping down to $75, but it's hard, and that's just for me!

  19. oops! forgot to check in for my favourite blogger today.

    Good post Crabby. I agree with you. I've wanted to do a posting on obesity, but after the lambasting I got with the skin screen, I'm a little burnt (sorry, still can't resist those puns).

    My daughter is a tiny thing. She's 5'6" but weighs less than 100 lbs. But the kid (she's 18) eats like a proverbial horse. She's eating food all day long. Good food! Fruits, veggies, she doesn't eat beef or pork, only chicken or fish. Nothing breaded, nothing unhealthy. I'm so envious of her and her wonderful diet. People have insinuated that she may have an eating disorder. I snort and say "yeah, she LOVES food." I guess she's one of those fast metabolism people we keep hearing about.

  20. I'm so happy that Colorado made it onto the "good" list.

  21. The Lethological Reader -
    Well, I suppose it depends on how you define "good healthy food" too. If you define it as everything HAS to be organic and from someplace like Whole Foods, then there's no way you'd be able to stick to that budget, heh. The more you're willing to cook from scratch, the cheaper it is, too.

    We live on a military base and shop at the commissary. We buy whole grain stuff, various meats, fresh and frozen veggies and fruits. And of course some convenience foods, but for those we usually spring for organic (like Amy's Kitchen and Stoneyfield Farms brands - soooo tasty).

  22. I just went to the state fair and I believe it when you say that Americans are getting fatter. Wowza.

  23. I'm so depressed about this whole fat country thing... There is absolutely nothing that works. It pisses me off that people are raising their kids so poorly. But believe me, I've written about it and ranted about it and I take my little out in the fresh air but still, most little kids are getting bigger and bigger. You know what I think; ban fast food and increase community safety. People don't even let their kids outside anymore because of safety but I'm not so sure the alternative of sitting inside and gaining weight is safe either.

  24. Sorry folks, a bit behind so these are lame:

    What an awesome and honest comment!

    Jamie, welcome and thanks!

    Lisa, sorry for the rushed response this morning. Great observations. And 5 weeks, huh? Exciting!

    Kery, yeah, and I've seen a Mom buy her chubby kid TWO of them.

    Marie, I know, wasn't that quiz outrageous?

    Sarah, some really good suggestions. And yeah, it's definitely harder when you're poor to take care of your health.

    Missicat, good for you! Hope it went well. Take it from Jim, it does eventually suck less.

    Leth, I too was impressed by Lisa's budget. I think food cost vary tremendously too, depending on where you can purchase things.

    Marijke, I love your puns!
    And I think it's great your daughter eats so healthy even though she could "afford," appearance-wise, to load up on junk like other kids her age.

    Vanilla--I believe it too. Colorado seems like a really healthy state and seems to attract active people.

    Lisa--way to go with careful shopping!

    Hi Steph! State Fairs seem like the perfect way to see a more accurate picture of what America really looks like--way more accurate than TV.

    Yes, you had a great rant on this same topic! And good point about junk food and community safety.

  25. I usually don't worry about buying organic, though recently I'm trying to focus on buying local produce. But even before I was doing that, I was shopping at the extra cheap vegetable market, and getting everything else at a big chain grocery store (healthy stuff, but not from the expensive organic aisle), and I was still spending about $60-$70/week. I always do all my own cooking, and end up using almost all my food by the end of the week, so it's really hard. Could be the geography - I live in Boston, which has one of the highest cost of living standards in the country, so it could be that there's just no way around it if I buy mostly produce and meat.

  26. A good rant always feel good! :) Keep shouting out the positive message and someone will hear eventually. If enough of keep chanting the truth and getting healthy it does make a difference - even if we don't see that difference right away.

  27. Hi Lady Rose!
    I love your rants especially because you always sound so reasonable even while you're working up to full steam! And as I recall you've had great ones making these very same points. We're probably preaching to the choir, but you never knows when there's an ambivalent soul out there who might be converted.

  28. Once upon a time we:
    worked the fields (now considered way below us),
    we walked most placed (tsk! tsk! that's only for those who can't afford cars and let's not forget golf carts),
    climbed up stairs (who needs those when we can afford to live in apartment buildings that have escalators and lifts)

    etc... etc... seems to me that as we've got more status conscious, the less we use our legs!

  29. Eh, who cares if we're all fat. We're the richest most powerful nation in the world. We deserve to live large.


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