Farmers could be linchpin of a new weight control plan

March 10, 2002|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

THE SURGEON GENERAL has released yet another report warning Americans that we're fat.

That's what your modern surgeon general does: Issue warnings. He sees danger lurking everywhere. Years ago, the surgeon general was more laid-back; his staff often found him passed out under his desk at 2:30 in the afternoon, reeking of cigars and bourbon. He would go for years at a stretch without issuing a warning. Back then, Americans felt free to smoke, eat fatty foods, drink liquor and drive cars without seat belts, often all at the same time. Granted, most of them died by age 32. But they were carefree.

Today, of course, we have vigilant health authorities notifying us hourly that pretty much everything we do is fatal. And so we have the surgeon general coming out with yet another official report -- titled "Americans: What a Bunch of Whales" -- which contains these shocking statistics:

* Sixty-one percent of all adult Americans are overweight.

* One of these Americans always sits next to me on the airplane.

* This person uses 140 percent of the armrest.

* Americans don't really understand percentages, either.

What is causing these problems? For one thing, the surgeon general notes, many schools no longer require students to take physical education. This is a crime. When I was a student, P.E. class was mandatory, with each class lasting 45 minutes, broken down as follows:

* Changing into gym uniforms: 14 minutes.

* Roll call, which always indicated perfect attendance because somebody shouted "Here!" in response to every name called, despite the fact that roughly 30 percent of the class was actually out behind the gym smoking cigarettes: 12 minutes.

* "Jumping Jacks": 2 minutes.

* Taking showers, snapping each other with towels, changing back to civilian clothes, causing lifetime psychic damage to some unfortunate student by shoving him out into the hallway stark naked except for an athletic supporter on his head: 15 minutes.

Yes, it was a demanding physical regimen, and we followed it twice a week. Little wonder that we brought the Soviet Union to its knees. So I totally agree with the surgeon general about bringing back mandatory P.E. And not just for students. Cabinet members should also be included.

Where I do NOT agree with the surgeon general is on his dietary recommendations. He's upset that Americans do not follow the Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid, which tells you in detail how many cups of whole grains, raw leafy vegetables, yogurt, etc. you're supposed to consume per day based on your age, weight, number of teeth, etc.

Let me respond, on behalf of all Americans, by suggesting, in the politest way possible, that the surgeon general should go sit on the Food Guide Pyramid. Because out here in the real world, we do not carry cups around with us, nor do we encounter "whole grains," whatever they are. Here in the real world, we face dietary decisions such as: Do we want the Hungry Human Burger 'n' Bacon 'n' Cheese 'n' Egg 'n' Sausage 'n' Slab o' Lard Combo Deluxe with a large order of fries? Or with a really large order of fries?

Yes, real Americans need a more effective dietary aid than the Food Guide Pyramid. Here's my idea: We should use farmers. Lord knows we pay them enough. In the past five years, the Department of Agriculture paid 92 billion taxpayer-supplied dollars in subsidies to farmers, including such hardscrabble sons of the soil as (I am not making this up) Scottie Pippen, who makes $18 million a year playing basketball, and who got $131,575 in farm subsidies; and Ted Turner, who is worth more than $6 billion, and who got $176,077 in subsidies.

So here's my proposal: Any farmer who (a) receives taxpayer money and (b) is worth more than $1 million should be required to spend 10 hours per week actively preventing taxpayers from eating so much.

Picture the scene: You're in the convenience store. You grab a package of Hostess brand Ding Dongs. You're heading for the checkout counter, and ... BAM, you're grabbed from behind by Ted Turner! So you turn around and whomp him on the head with a 16-ounce jar of Kraft brand jalapeno-flavored Cheez Whiz. As he goes down like a sack of whole grain, you grab a bottle of Yoo-hoo brand Yoo-hoo, pay the cashier, and lumber out of the store.

That's how I'd handle this national weight problem. I have plenty of other ideas for improving our health, so if the surgeon general is reading this:

Sir, please feel free to get in touch. You can reach me under my desk.

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