Atul Gawande linked to the obesity report released yesterday and suggested it was reasonable for fat to be an issue in the next presidential campaign. I gotta say, just a glance at the stats was jaw-dropping, and he may be right.
I tell my journalism students, when considering data, the news is in the change. This is a lot of change in a short time:
Twelve states now have obesity rates above 30 percent. Four years ago, only one state was above 30 percent. … Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Today, more than two out of three states, 38 total, have obesity rates over 25 percent, and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent. Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. Obesity rates have grown fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, and slowest in Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Connecticut. …Adult obesity rates increased in 16 states in the past year and did not decline in any state.
This isn’t change over the course of a generation. This is change in, what, five years? Appalling. What is most disheartening is how swiftly this is becoming an economic issue. Michigan is now No. 10, down from 1995’s ranking, when we were tied for fourth, but that’s mainly because everyone else surged (particularly the American south). In that time, we still managed to increase our obesity rate 77 percent, from 17.2 percent to over 30 percent. Final, the-news-is-the-change comparison:
“Today, the state with the lowest adult obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995,” said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH.
That’s only 16 years ago! I remember 1995! (I was 30 pounds lighter.) So, a question for the room: Why? I’ve always believed complex problems do not have simple answers, but off the top of my head, I can think of a double handful of reasons that have all dovetailed, one way or another, to drive the problem: Portion size, the loss of cooking skills, an aging population (we gain weight as we grow older), agricultural policies that encourage the production of crops that become cheap, calorically rich additives (I’m looking at you, corn). Fast food, restaurant food in general, 20-ounce soda, a culture that cements overeating in place by encouraging portion sizes once only found in stuff-your-face contests. Taco Bell runs specials from time to time, which packages six deluxe tacos in a single combo meal. Six. For one person. Supersize it, biggie-size it, etc.
I mentioned economics. I live in an affluent area, where people are generally normal-size. There’s a running club for kids. I see people exercising with their children. People are always bitching that the nearest Whole Foods is too far away. I walk through Kate’s school during class change, and fat kids are distributed in about the same proportions as they were when I was young — one in 10, maybe, one in 15. I drive past Detroit schools at dismissal time, and half the kids are waddling.
Gawande says this is a presidential issue because of health costs, obviously. Twenty-seven percent of Army recruits are disqualified from enlistment because of obesity.
In other news at this hour, my pants felt loose yesterday, so I stepped on the scale. Down five pounds. How the hell did that happen? Short answer: Summer cycling, plus an absent kid means I don’t feel obligated to make the dishes she prefers. Last night’s dinner was a frittata with sautéed spinach, garlic and goat cheese. Took me 10 minutes to make.
Well, having children will pack on the pounds. Every mother knows this.
A few more tasty bits of bloggage, then I’m off to edit video.
Every copy-desk chief knows you have to have at least one pervert on the crew, someone who will see the dirty joke in everything. It saves you from some of the more embarrassing exampled detailed here. (Although it doesn’t save you from one of the worst of my career, the time a front-page story reported a phone number for some worthy charity effort, and transposed digits sent readers to a sex line. For that one, the only cure is the plain old boring rule of copy editing: Last thing you do before releasing a page with a phone number? DIAL THE NUMBER.)
Here’s another question for the room: I’ve been reading a lot of stories of late about children misbehaving in public. This column is typical, and pretty restrained, as these things go; I’ve read some truly nasty rants from others, whose day can apparently be ruined by the presence of one whiny kid in a public place. I was always pretty lucky in this regard; Kate wasn’t much of a misbehaver when she was little, and the few times she cried in public, I whisked her out of there so fast, trailing apologies in my wake, that once I startled a couple at a nearby table, who weren’t even aware there’d been a baby in the room.
But I only had one, and a girl, and an easy keeper at that. And a restaurant is not an airport, or an airplane, the latter two of which are far harder to leave. Since then, I’ve aged, and mellowed, and now I’m far more likely to be that couple in the restaurant. I have tune-out skills, and I accept that children are part of the human family, and that overhearing an occasional blowup in a mall or elsewhere is part of the price we pay for a public space. (In any event, I find them far less offensive than hearing some Neanderthal shout curses into his cell phone, an increasingly common occurrence these days.) So my question is: Are kids really worse than they used to be, or does the internet simply give more people a place to complain about them?
Also, I direct your attention to this blog from Lisa Belkin at the NYT, which provides a counterpoint from the mother of a particular noisy child.
OK, the weekend is officially in progress. I might make it to the pool today. Enjoy yours, whatever the weather.