On any given trip to the CCRB, I come
across the same dilemma: All of the treadmills and elliptical
machines are in use, leaving me to wait and increase my blood
pressure in the interim. Though this is the perfect opportunity to
make a harangue against the University’s sub-par athletic
facilities, I will leave that for another time. What surprises me
even more is how the lack of available exercise equipment contrasts
sharply with national findings. Americans seem to be more conscious
of their health and fitness, yet obesity has skyrocketed. Obesity,
being overweight by 20 to 30 percent of the ideal body weight,
affects 64 percent of adults and is set to exceed smoking as the
No. 1 cause of preventable death.

Sowmya Krishnamurthy

The epidemic of fat has gotten so serious that some politicians
are mulling a “fat tax” on unhealthy goodies like red
meat and chocolate bars. At its most basic form, such a tax would
increase the price of foods linked to obesity to subsequently
lessen our cravings. Although a fat-tax proposal would likely
generate some much-needed federal revenue, the actual effects on
public health are suspect. The same line of thinking was used to
propel the cigarette tax, which has boosted interstate and Internet
cigarette sales more than significantly curbing smoking. Old habits
die hard and other than frugal college students on Entrée
Plus, few will replace Twinkies with carrot sticks if a tax is
imposed; only wallets will be lighter. A fat tax theoretically
would be especially detrimental to lower-income families who rely
on cheaper and therefore unhealthier cuisine.

Because the inertia of human nature usually impedes change, the
problem of obesity needs to be tackled more stringently from a
societal level. The first move is to proscribe all of the political
correctness behind obesity and criticize the sedentary and
unhealthy lifestyle that propagates it. Minus certain medical
afflictions and heredity that can exacerbate weight gain, it is not
feasible to gorge oneself to death. In an effort to appease
everyone’s “feelings,” society has given the
obese the right to feel victimized. Clothing manufacturers distort
label sizes and store mirrors to placate consumers’ egos.
Airlines continue to debate whether passengers using multiple seats
should be charged single fare, and federal compensation exists for
the obese. The image of the “big, fat party animal” and
the mantra that “beauty comes in all sizes no matter
what” (which are inherently biased to favor men over women)
are simply excuses. There is nothing attractive about the
sicknesses caused by obesity like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular
disease, and several types of cancer, or $40 billion — or
about $170 per person — the yearly price tag the public
spends treating these illnesses through Medicare and Medicaid
programs.

In no way do I advocate stigmatization of the obese or mandating
national starvation; rather, I propose more awareness. Instead of
sugar-coating the issue, treat obesity as the epidemic that it is
and demand individual and societal responsibility.

With their monstrous portions, lack of healthy alternatives and
misleading advertising, restaurants and fast-food chains like
McDonald’s and Burger King are some of the largest purveyors
of fat. The numbers speak for themselves. McDonald’s
Supersized Big Mac and Coke, which were both incidentally
discontinued following nutritional litigation, contained a whopping
1,600 calories and 44 grams of fat — over half of the daily
caloric and fat intake of an average American male. Even so-called
diet food can be deceptive. Subway’s popular Friendly Wraps,
based on the Atkins “become skinny but clog your arteries
with saturated fat” pseudo-diet, contain such healthy
ingredients as bacon and ranch sauce, totaling to over 400 calories
and 20 grams of fat a piece. Corporations need to be more frank
with nutrition information, displaying it prominently before you
order, and offer bona fide alternatives.

School cafeterias require some revamping as well. With chocolate
chip cookies and French fries being some of the most popular lunch
choices, it is no wonder that 30 percent of school-age children are
overweight and 15 percent are defined as obese.

We live in a country with some of the most advanced medical
technology in the world. With our knowledge of preventative
measures, there is no reason why hundreds of thousands of Americans
should die because of overconsumption. The Bush administration
recently launched a campaign to combat the issue via improved
product labels, a partnership with restaurants, and increased
health education. Though its success is yet to be seen, hopefully
this holistic approach along with some tough love will provide a
solid foundation for fighting the battle of the bulge.

Krishnamurthy can be reached at
“mailto:sowymak@umich.edu”>sowymak@umich.edu.

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