Obesity is a choice for many

I had some time the other day, so I decided to catch up on my blog reading. I found Shae’s blog about The Fattening of America particularly interesting. No doubt in part to the fact that I have had a life long struggle with my weight. The other reason it fascinated me so was that Shae so vehemently disagreed with the author’s point. She brought up some very astute points about poverty being one of the leading causes of obesity in this county. This is, of course, not the first time I have heard this claim made.  

All one has to do is walk down a grocery store aisle to see that the cheapest foods available for mass consumption, also contain some of the most unhealthy ingredients around. I think it is an absolute travesty that it is cheaper to buy a two liter of soda than it is to buy any type of juice. The average cost of juices that actually have 100% fruit juice (even though they are still from concentrate most of the time), is three times that of a bottle of Coke. A great many of the juices on the market can hardly justify calling themselves that. The affordable ones owe their sweet taste not to any sort of fruit, but to that great pretender, high fructose corn syrup. They masquerade as something healthy that the uneducated mistake for a good life style choice, and yet they are just about as bad as their carbonated equivalents. For the shopper on a tight budget, prepackaged foods loaded with fillers, lard and sodium are far more affordable than their healthy, and expensive counterparts, therefore it is easy to conclude poverty is a major contributing factor to the rising obesity rate in this country.  

However, I think the issue goes much deeper than simply having a mixed economy where the haves do have not only easy access to healthier dishes, but also premium health care to make sure they can fight off the dangers of obesity if they let it get to that point. After all, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. Aside from my four year stint in college, I have never been counted among the poor. My income level and that of my parents has always put us in the middle class category. I think this is where the issue of obesity splits from mere economic lines.  

So why do I think there is such an epidemic of obesity sweeping the nation? Well, I think there are three key contributing factors. The first, as I’ve mentioned, is poverty. The second, is far more devious. Being a child of a generation that has never known life with TV and hardly known life without computers, I think advertising is partially to blame. Every day we are inundated with commercials touting products as healthy, even when they are anything but. For example, when Arby’s came out with their Market Fresh sandwiches, I was keen to try them. Although the actual commercials never claim the sandwiches are low fat or low cal, they are marketed as healthy. For starters, fresh is right in the name. The commercials sing the praises of all natural ingredients, the hearty, multi-grain bakery bread. The healthy lettuce and tomato. The naturalness of the sandwich is there for all to see. I admit it; I was fooled. I thought a Market Fresh sandwich was going to be a healthy alternative to my usual fast food fair. For several years, I ate them, thinking I was making a good choice. Then, I went on a strict calorie counting diet and found out that the seemingly good turkey and swiss sandwich has 725 calories and 30 grams of fat. An Arby’s Beef and Cheddar has less than 450 calories and only 21 grams of fat.  Arby’s is not the only place proclaiming their healthy choices. Subway jumped on the bandwagon long ago. While their claim that they have 6 subs under 6 grams of fat is completely true, this is still less than ¼ of their menu that is low fat/low cal, and yet they have an image of being the healthy choice. While I applaud their efforts to actually produce decent tasting healthy choices, their meatball marinara has 560 calories and 24 grams of fat and what they always neglect to mention on their commercials is that for a mere pittance, any customer can double their meat. Double their meat? How is that any better than Burger King or McDonald’s who they are always attacking in their quest to be the smart choice? A double meat meatball sub has 860 calories. Yikes! 

Now, if I am college educated and rather intelligent despite my occasional typos, and I was fooled by some of these healthy claims, I can only imagine a great many other people in this country also believe they are making healthy choices, but are, in fact, packing on the pounds.  Now on to my last cause of obesity and this is where Shae and I differ. She uses the author’s claim that:             

          “Many individuals are making a conscious decision to engage in a lifestyle that is obesity-promoting.” 

to point out his ignorance. I have to say, I believe he is definitely right. I believe a great many Americans, for whatever reason, make the choice to eat food that is unhealthy for them and not to exercise because they “just don’t feel like it.” I have a good job. I even like to cook and since my husband is a great help with the baby most days, on the weekends at least, I have time to do it. Even on the weekdays, even after working 10-12 hours, I am perfectly capable of making something simple and fairly healthy like spaghetti with a nice salad or reheating some of the big batch of minestrone soup I made and serving it with a slice of sourdough bread. The problem is that every day on the way home from work, I have to pass McDonald’s. It has nothing to do with convenience, or a lack of time, I just love McDonald’s. I love their fries. I love their Quarter Pounders. God help me, I even love those preformed chicken masses they call nuggets. When we go out to eat I know I should choose the salad with the light dressing or the baked chicken. We can afford to go to places that offer a variety of healthy choices. We spend most of our restaurant budget eating at ethnic places where I can get lots of veggies or low fat fish. But what do I want? I want the coconut soup and peanut chicken if we go out for Thai. I want sushi sure, but I want fried shrimp tempura rolls, Louis rolls and soft shell crab. I want the chicken taco salad in that amazingly delicious deep fried shell. I want the giant slice of chocolate cake. Even though I know exactly what they will do to my waistline, I don’t care, they are tasty, and I want them. I think a good portion of America is like me. They don’t make bad eating decisions because they have to, they make bad eating decisions because the old adage is true, “if it tastes good, it must be bad for you.” 

 That’s not, of course, to say that I don’t like a variety of healthy foods. I do. But for a large part of my life I have engaged in a lifestyle that has promoted obesity (although I have thankfully never made it quite there). I really like junk food and really hate to exercise. I choose to eat healthier foods and occasionally exercise because I also like cute clothes and the ability to go shopping at the same stores as some of my very adorable, and rather skinny friends. This is a fairly recent discovery though. For a very large portion of my life, I decided I was happy with myself, even if it meant I weighed 50 pounds more than I should have. I made the decision not to worry about what it might do to my health because I liked the food. I don’t think for a second I am alone.  

I do agree with Shae though. I think the author is over simplifying and no doubt making an arrogant and spurious argument. I haven’t read his book though, nor am I a doctor nor someone who has done extensive research into obesity. I’m just a chubby girl who knows why she eats and watches a great many people around her with the same eating habits. Take my blog with the grain of salt I intend to accompany it. Although that certainly isn’t a healthy choice.

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