Friday, December 31, 2010

Obesity Is a Red and Blue Issue

The uproar by conservative callers to a recent talk radio conversation on WPTF broadcasting from nearby Raleigh was deafening. The callers were raging against the experimental use of fresh salad bars in some public schools to promote better nutrition. It was followed by the even more recent snarking by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, taking a cheap shot on her TV show at Michelle Obama’s concern about the dramatic increase in childhood obesity.Obesity Prevalence

PrintI’m sure beneath the hubris and idiocy of some of these comments is a legitimate concern about how effective policy can be without “personal responsibility” on the part of both parents and students; but many callers just sounded resentful of an effort to give today’s school children the very same head start we were given. This is the same miserly thinking that has undermined physical education, bands, recess and other potentially healthful benefits in public schools.

As you can see in one of the illustrations shown in this blog, obesity is very prevalent in a lot of red states so this isn’t an ideological issue.

Those “holier-than-thou” conservative talk show callers may have been even more angry had they known that the forerunner of today’s school lunch program started in the 1930’s during the Great Depression when famed-Iowan Harry Hopkins encouraged state relief administrators to provide them, both for nutrition and to encourage urban gardening.

Maybe they would have shut up even more had they known that school lunch programs became nationwide during World War II as a national security issue. Too many military recruits suffered from malnutrition.

obesity_in_americaFlash forward and that what concerns our First Lady is also a deep concern among today’s military leaders. Only this time obesity and lack of fitness are threatening national security. There was even a news story this week that the military is dumbing down basic training to cope with issues like obesity among recruits.

Obesity is much more than just being overweight and it doesn’t come from being well fed, it comes from eating too much of the wrong types of foods - often the only foods too readily available to those on low incomes., Primarily it is the result of simply overeating and not getting enough exercise.

Regardless of the personal issues involved, it is an epidemic and it is undermining national security and the obvious place to re-instill good eating habits in a near universal sense is in the public schools. We can intensify lessons about “personal responsibility” at the same time.

Preaching “shoulds” to parents who already missed out on or ignored those lessons isn’t going to create the kind of rapid and broad-based change we need to be more nationally secure and to stave off the incredible public health costs inherent in obesity.

An example of how we’re paying for it is illustrated in this link to an interactive map on Slate showing how rapidly diabetes, one of the results of obesity, has advanced in just four short years from 2004 to 2008.

Gripe about possibly paying increased taxes to provide salads for lunches all you want, but be assured that you will pay now or you will pay later for the costs to society that are the eventual outcome or poor nutrition and eating habits.

For those who want at the same time to do more than rant about “personal responsibility” I leave you with a link to a new app to set goals (much more than a to-do list this time) and some very useful words of wisdom on how to set resolutions by authors Chip and Dan Heath.

Happy New Year and may you celebrate in moderation!

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