Monday, March 26, 2018

Fat Nation

What with our cults to celebrity and our mindless political debates you sometimes wonder about the state of America’s moral character. If so, you would be right.

When pondering the problem you will ask yourself how well Americans are doing on the self-control and self-discipline scales. Do Americans restrain their appetites or do they express them openly and freely?

Classical ethics recommended that people temper their enthusiasm for food and even for sex. Such ethical systems also recommended against emotional incontinence. Favoring rational thought over emotional rants meant that we were supposed to think before we dug into that pile of succulent pig’s feet.

And yet, thanks apparently to our therapy culture, we now believe that appetitive restraint is repressive and that we should indulge our appetites… be they sexual or alimentary. Our culture suggests that you can never have too much sex, but this also seems to provoke the notion that you can never have too much food. One suspects that both are ways to self-medicate, and that people have too much sex and eat too much because our cultures consider such activities salutary. It promotes the notion that we, being wealthy beyond anyone’s imagination, should enjoy our wealth by eating ourselves to death. One understands that it’s seriously difficulty to fornicate yourself to death… though I suspect that, as we speak, people are trying to find a way.

Need we even mention that our psycho culture tells us that there’s a pill for every form of emotional distress, and that we moderns have arrived at an advanced state where we enjoy our right to feel good all the time, no matter what. From psychiatric drugs to illegal narcotics to everyday weed, we seem incapable of restraining our appetites for chemical substances that promise to relieve us of all feelings of psychic pain.

We think we have liberated ourselves from repression. In truth we have descended into cultural decadence. We have lost the capacity to discipline our appetites and thus we indulge them, without fear. When our external appearance exposes our overindulgence… that is, when we grow out of our clothes and start looking like ambulatory round mounds of adipose tissue, no one has the right even to look askance at us.

Most likely, our collective food addiction is going to cost the nation a ton of money in medical care, but, whereas we rise up in anger when anyone lights up a cigarette—because of the cost of caring for smokers— when we see someone who is fat we cannot say anything, because that would be fat shaming. And we all know that fat shaming, like slut shaming, is bad.

Actually, we shamed a lot of people out of smoking, so it can’t be all bad.

Down with fat shaming. Down with self-discipline. Down with temperance. Down with family dinners. Up with eating alone. The result: America is getting more obese.

The New York Times reports on American cultural decadence:

American adults continue to put on the pounds. New data shows that nearly 40 percent of them were obese in 2015 and 2016, a sharp increase from a decade earlier, federal health officials reported Friday.

The prevalence of severe obesity in American adults is also rising, heightening their risks of developing heart disease, diabetes and various cancers. According to the latest data, published Friday in JAMA, 7.7 percent of American adults were severely obese in the same period.

The data — gathered in a large-scale federal survey that is considered the gold standard for health data — measured trends in obesity from 2015 and 2016 back to 2007 and 2008, when 5.7 percent of American adults were severely obese and 33.7 percent were obese. The survey counted people with a body mass index of 30 or more as obese, and those with a B.M.I. of 40 or more as severely obese.

Nearly 40% of Americans are now obese. Most of this occurred during the Obama administration, but don’t tell anyone. Think about it: at this rate the majority of Americans will soon be obese. What if they are organized around a voting block. They can elect candidates on a platform of: Free food.

Amazingly, awareness does not work. Actually, public awareness and advertising never works. We keep trying it, because we have faith that one day it will work. We are wrong.

Public health experts said that they were alarmed by the continuing rise in obesity among adults and by the fact that efforts to educate people about the health risks of a poor diet do not seem to be working.

“Most people know that being overweight or obese is unhealthy, and if you eat too much that contributes to being overweight,” said Dr. James Krieger, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington and executive director of Healthy Food America, an advocacy group. “But just telling people there’s a problem doesn’t solve it.”

What does solve the problem? Perhaps we might think of eating together. And of having stable homes where children and parents eat regular dinners together. It beats scarfing down fast food in front of the television set.

The experts never seem to consider that food consumption has always been a ritualized group activity. They think it’s all biochemistry. And they believe that we need but put more labels on food products… the better to warn people about sugar and fat content. 

Not so strangely, the food industry is pushing back against these unreasonable restraints. They see us entering a slippery slope where the government will take over supermarkets across the country and will only permit you to buy rabbit food—carrots and kale. 

Need I remind you that the Obama administration healthy food program caused zillions of schoolchildren to reject the healthy lunches imposed by the government, thus to feel as though they were starving... until class was over and they could race to the nearest McDonalds for a Big Mac. Did you ever think of the damage that one dumb program can do?

I need not tell you that the advanced research studies of American obesity never credit Michelle Obama's efforts to starve schoolchildren. After all, she had the right intentions. And, as America gets fatter, nothing matters more than intentions. Don't you think?

The Times continues:

While the latest survey data doesn’t explain why Americans continue to get heavier, nutritionists and other experts cite lifestyle, genetics, and, most importantly, a poor diet as factors. Fast food sales in the United States rose 22.7 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to Euromonitor, while packaged food sales rose 8.8 percent.

Increased fast food sales bespeak more eating alone. They bespeak more social anomie. 

It’s the ethics, stupid. Self-control and self-discipline are important virtues in most ethical systems. A willingness to moderate your appetites, something that occurs normally when you are eating with others, represents an important ethical virtue. Being enlightened thinkers we have placed the onus entirely on science. We imagine that we need but take over food production and lower fat content, and all will be well. The truth is, if we do not promote ethical values, values that are rational but that do not come to us from science, we will find ourselves leading the world in obesity. We believe that appetite control is bad for our mental health. We believe that we can never have too much sex. We now seem to believe that we can never eat too much either.

And yes, let’s bring back fat shaming. And let's overcome the tendency to eat alone. Otherwise, we will find ourselves facing the unenviable choice: obesity or smoking?


Shaun F said...

My sister, her husband, and their three children still do family dinners. However, one child gets sushi, one gets hot dogs, one gets tuna melts - I think you get the gist of it. The children's appetites are uniquely catered to. How they do this time wise is beyond me.

Deana said...

Yes, yes and yes!!

I’m a registered nurse at a very large hospital so we do plenty of bariatric surgeries. Just today we were asked to do a learning module on bariatric patients. The module instructs us to feel sympathy for bariatric patients just like we feel sympathy for oncology patients.

Now we are professionals so we have a duty to treat each patient with care and dignity. But now we are supposed to FEEL for obese pts the same way we feel about patients who were just diagnosed with breast or brain cancer.

As for the body acceptance movement, I’m happy to see that different body shapes are now as accepted as being 5’6 and 120 lbs BUT as usual with progressive movements, there is no stopping point. No limit. Now EVERY body no matter how heavy is supposed to be not just accepted but celebrated and yes you, the bystander, are expected to celebrate with gusto.

What is never mentioned is that many patients who are severely morbidly obese have a very difficult time keeping clean and odor free because they can’t lift the rolls to properly wash and dry their skin. When you are so obese that you can’t reach far enough to wipe your bottom after urinating or defecating, you are going to have infections and there will be odor. At that point it is difficult to celebrate . . .