The number of obese New York City schoolchildren fell by 5.5 percent over five years, federal and city officials said Thursday, offering a glimmer of optimism about one of the country’s intractable health scourges.
Being fat is not the health scourge. It is, however, easy to measure. While there are some correlations between obesity and health, size is not the full measure of fitness. Plenty of skinny people suffer health problems from the very same root causes that make other people fat. Scapegoating the people who are fat and holding them out as the example of what’s wrong with the USA is not only false but also unkind and damaging to real people who are complex human beings with value.
The win in this story is not that more kids are thin. The win is that more kids got fresh vegetables instead of vending machine “food,” got play time instead of TV time in day care, and got water instead of soda. We don’t need to wage a war on fat kids to give all kids a shot at a healthier life!
We do have a broken relationship with food and exercise in the USA, and there is no doubt that one of the side effects for many people is weight gain. When people from other cultures come to the USA, they often develop the health problems that are common here and not elsewhere as soon as they adopt our culture and our processed foods. It’s not that they suddenly start eating more and turn into the sterotyped fat person (you know the one – lazy, addicted to food, and riddled with emotional problems), it’s that they eat up our warped cultural ideals and our addictive, processed “food” – and it makes them sick!
Distribution patterns, our culture of convenience, genetically modified foods, and factory farming have reduced the quality and nutritional value of the foods that average people have access to.
Misguided information about what’s healthy has people who are trying to eat right confused. Products with health claims like “low fat,” “sugar-free,” “heart healthy,” “organic,” and “gluten-free” confuse us into thinking they’re doing everything right, when in actuality those products aren’t necessarily doing us any favors. We label foods as good or bad, and then label ourselves as good or bad based on what we eat. We forget that food is supposed to be fuel, and try to eat the fewest calories in the biggest portion. Then we wonder why we’re hungry and full of health problems caused by vitamin deficiencies. Dieting like this disconnects us emotionally from seeing food for what it is at its best – a vital source of nutrients, energy, and pleasure!
Another aspect of our culture that contributes to poor health is our impressively sedentary lifestyles. I’m someone people tend to regard as “active,” yet if we’re going to be honest about it, there have been times in my life where I stared at the computer all day and didn’t do more exercise than walk to and from my car. These days I do some outdoor projects, but also have many days where I sit all day long. I have friends at least twice my size who ride their bikes several times a week, dance regularly, and do exercise programs at home and the gym. People wouldn’t look at me and think I couldn’t run two blocks without stopping, but it’s the truth. Size isn’t a good predictor of cardiovascular health – activity is!
So… if we shouldn’t focus on our eating on being “good” by choosing low calorie, low fat, sugar-free, rationed portions, and shouldn’t judge our success or failure on our body mass index, what should we do?
I love this series on how to eat by the Fat Nutritionist. One thing that jumped out at me very strongly was the idea that we have permission not to even try to be healthy. When we start to untangle and accept the emotional issues that bind up our size, health, and intrinsic worth, we open ourselves up to being able to enjoy food, enjoy movement, and make choices that are good for us as whole people and as a society.
I invite everyone, no matter their size or history with dieting, exercise, and other weight loss experiments, to reflect on these four simple statements:
I believe accepting these four concepts can liberate us from the judgement we have for others and ourselves, while inspiring us to create more vibrant lives.
- The Weight of the Nation
- The Weight of the Nation: Part One, Consequences
- Curvy is Hot, Skinny is Not?
- Wheat Belly Book Review
- Weight Loss is Not the Answer
- Can You Eat That?
- Crazy Diet People
- Empowering Kids on Special Diets
This post is a part of Fight Back Friday on Food Renegade!