Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009

Fat Nation

By David Luhrssen
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As a nation America is five billion pounds overweight by one estimate. Aside from aesthetic issues concerning the proliferation of unsightly waistlines, obesity is on its way to becoming the top health issue in the U.S., a major cause of heart and kidney disease and spiraling rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

The documentary Killer at Large includes some graphic— make that disgusting footage relating to the problem: the liposuction of a 12-year old girl who had already topped 200 pounds, the gangrenous toes and feet of diabetes sufferers. Killer at Large is not a pretty picture but presents an understanding of the complex of problems associated with the epidemic spread of obesity. The prevalence of high-calorie fast food is the most obvious cause, as are the supersizes sold by many chains. As one physician noted, a child’s meal has enough calories for a healthy adult and an adult meal enough for an entire family. The large size of plates and packages trigger a desire to eat more. The relentless marketing of bad food continually thrusts appetite-inducing images before us.

For much of history people were usually just a little hungry, and even in the early 20th century food preparation was such a chore that people seldom snacked between meals. Nowadays ready-to-swallow high-calorie food and beverages are sold everywhere, even gas stations and hardware stores. Alongside these developments creeps a silent stalker, stress in a decentered, sensory-overload world. Tension not only drives many people to eating for comfort but causes the metabolism to fall back—like a camel in the desert—into storing fat, as if confronted by war and famine in primeval times.

Bush’s Surgeon General Richard Carmona put it well: “Obesity is a terror within. It is destroying our society from within and unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11.”

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