darryl james

Darryl James

*We’ve all seen the commercials showing the starving children in other countries.

The announcer asks us to send money so that families, particularly the children can eat regular meals.

In some countries, there are people who simply can not get enough to eat.

One of those countries is the United States of America.

Yes, there are people dying in this nation because they can not get enough to eat.

And, on the flip side, there are people who are dying because they get too much to eat.

In the past decade, the population of obese people in America has almost doubled. It’s the nation’s number one cause of preventable death and it’s now a health crisis.

Where are the commercials showing the overweight Americans who are dying?

There are commercials, but they are hardly showing obesity for the death sentence that it truly is.

You see, in America, while throngs of people are dying and becoming ill–most specifically from diabetes and hypertension–the outlook on being overweight is skewed, as some portray the condition as “sexy” and still some portray being overweight as “healthy.”

Ostensibly, the goal is to counter the taunting and name calling slung at overweight people, while creating ways for them to feel good about themselves.

But some of the propaganda and pageantry promoting the “beauty” of the overweight lifestyle has gone too far, providing for many an escape from reality and an excuse for not addressing serious health issues.

Americans are growing larger and dying earlier and unnecessarily.  And redefining our feelings about being fat and/or being overweight won’t stop that. An understanding of what is at stake may help.

Obesity involves having an abnormally high proportion of body fat to good old fashioned muscle. Doctors define obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher and overweight as having a BMI of 25 or higher.

Three out of every five adults in America are obese, which should be cause for great alarm, yet, we are instead offering great excuses, or at best, greater employment of the old excuses.

For example, how many times have we heard someone proclaim they have a “thyroid problem?” Many people attribute their weight gain to an underactive thyroid, but this is true only in a few cases. Hypothyroidism will rarely cause a person to gain more than ten to twenty pounds – most of which is fluid.

The simple truth is that most obesity is the result of horrible eating habits and nonexistent exercise plans.

Every year, about 400,000 people die from poor nutrition and/or lack of exercise and those largely preventable deaths are increasing.  It is difficult to separate the two categories because they usually both result in obesity.

Again, instead of being frightened into action, we are lulling ourselves into a false sense of security by making it seem as though being fit and trim is a bad thing.

For example, some Black people call a desire to be and/or to love “skinny” people (little body fat) a “European” standard, but that is an extreme reaction and it just isn’t true.  African people weren’t traditionally overweight and unhealthy until we came to the New World, where we ate horribly and adopted unhealthy lifestyles (that’s European). European descendants are also gaining in obesity stats.

To be clear, being fat and unhealthy is dangerous.

Advocates of great self esteem for obese people (including actress/comedian Monique) can host one million pageants to celebrate being “big and beautiful,” and work tirelessly to redefine the term “fat,” making overweight people feel good about themselves, but at the end of the day, people are still dying unnecessarily.

Outside of social preferences, people of color, particularly African Americans, have specific health concerns that must be addressed in order to increase longevity and enhance the quality of life.

Sure, we can find overweight people who are not on the verge of death.  But the reality is that being overweight increases your tendency to be unhealthy, and there is no way around that.  Yesterday’s bigger boys and girls were healthier than today’s overweight people, because yesterday, they at least got more exercise.  Our society was a walking society, but now we drive everywhere and eat more foods with little to no nutritional value while the national average is getting bigger and more inactive.

Even our kids are getting fatter, and recess is under attack.  All while people try to make it cool to be fat.  It’s not.

According to a 2002 report from the CDC (“Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2000”), the percentage of 6-11-year-olds who were overweight rose from 4.2% in 1965 to 15.3% by 2000.  The percentage of 12-19-year-olds who were overweight rose from 4.6% to 15.5% during the same time period.

We are producing new generations of overweight children while the nation is learning to “celebrate” the beauty of being overweight, and there really isn’t much to celebrate.  Some overweight people live good, some live not so good.

While people continue to accept obesity as part of the American culture, the reality is that medical research points to obesity as the culprit in cases of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Scientists trace the rising levels of high blood pressure and diabetes to poor diet and excess weight, combined with little or no exercise.

High Blood pressure occurs when blood vessels become too narrow, which makes the heart work harder to push blood through them, or when blood vessels become stiff and can’t expand when blood is pushed through them.  Pressure can also increase when the blood has excessive sodium and water, which increases the amount of fluid in the blood–when the heart pumps blood through the body, the pressure against the walls of the blood vessels increases.

Diabetes occurs when the body is no longer able to produce enough insulin to regulate the sugar levels in the blood.

Weird science may be partly to blame as growth hormones are regularly injected into meat and then consumed by humans.  While there has been much less than a quiet roar in America, a scientific panel funded by the European Union confirmed that eating beef from cattle raised on growth hormones poses health risks.  The EU has banned the use of those hormones and prohibited the import of beef treated with those hormones, including beef from America, where widespread fattening of cattle with growth hormones is regular.

However, eating in moderation and increasing our physical activity can mitigate weight gain.

Self-esteem is a good thing for anyone, and no one should be made to feel bad about themselves.  But we still need to embrace reality and embracing and celebrating the nation’s growing waistline and declining health is just not a good idea.

For the sake of our overweight unhealthy children, I would much rather agitate for the return of recess and physical education along with healthy nutritional goals.  I would rather see fuller aerobic classes in action than more class action suits against a fast food industry that boomed because people simply volunteered to eat more.  And I would rather counseling were the preferred choice of the depressed Americans who are eating themselves to death as the only comfort in their lives.

If we really want to show love to the overweight people in our lives, the best we can do is to provide them with real health information and urge them to lead healthier lifestyles so that we can keep them around longer.

All that being said, if you are overweight and happy, be happy.  Just don’t try to pretend that being overweight is a good thing.

Revel in your life and lifestyle, but don’t justify it, or try to make it seem like a universal, healthy and good thing.

It’s not.

It’s killing people.

Too much food is as bad, if not worse, than too little food.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.”  James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles in 2011and will be running throughout 2012. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at [email protected].