There's no sugar-coating it: we're losing battle of bulge

April 05, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd

JUDGING BY RECENT headlines, it's safe to say that the War on Obesity is not going real well so far.

Oh, things got off to a rousing start when McDonald's, the Evil Empire of the fast-food industry, announced it was getting rid of its super-size portions.

This was considered a good thing, because if we could just get people to stop eating 200 fries at a sitting and washing them down with beach-pail-sized soft drinks, it would surely jump-start the slimming of America.

And from there, the thinking went, Burger King and Wendy's and the other chains would follow suit, and then portions of junk food would get smaller and smaller until people kicked the habit altogether and started eating healthy: small garden salad, low-fat yogurt, 20-ounce bottled water.

Then pretty soon after that, with America becoming increasingly health-conscious, everyone would be jumping out of bed and knocking off 100 push-ups and 200 sit-ups and gym memberships would soar until we'd become a nation of flat stomachs and rippling abs, size 6 cocktail dresses and Dockers pants with 32-inch waistlines, clear-eyed and resolute.

Right.

Sure, it was a stretch. But this is what you do when you're fighting a war.

You put out a lot of propaganda. You try to sell the best-case scenario and hope the masses will buy it.

But after all the fuss about McDonald's finding a conscience on super-size portions, the War on Obesity seemed to bog down.

Here in Maryland, for example, a bill restricting school kids' access to vending machines was shot down in Annapolis.

As anyone who has seen one recently knows, school-vending machines do not exactly dispense carrot sticks and apples and rice cakes to the youth of America.

Instead, the machines pump out 20-ounce Mountain Dews and Snickers bars the size of bricks and huge bags of potato chips, which our kids stuff in their fat little faces while skipping gym - if the schools even offers gym anymore.

But a bill limiting the hours of operation for the school vending machines was voted down by legislators, which certainly set the war effort back on its heels.

Then came the news last week that tuna - the low-fat choice for dieting fatsos everywhere - contained elevated levels of mercury and should be consumed in limited quantities, especially by pregnant women and kids.

In my kitchen cabinet right now are three large cans of Bumblebee solid-white albacore in water.

I eat this stuff like the seas are scheduled to dry up tomorrow, being a dieting fatso myself.

And even though I'm not a pregnant woman or a kid, the idea that I might be ingesting a lot of mercury - which is extremely poisonous, by the way - is not exactly comforting.

Anyway, with the nation still reeling from the tuna scare - OK, maybe it was just me who was reeling - Duke University released a new study that said our kids have never been fatter.

Not only are they fat now, the study said, but they're getting fatter and fatter, and one day, they might just explode.

OK, fine, the study didn't actually use the word "explode."

But it said rates of childhood obesity were soaring and it left no doubt as to why so many kids were turning into big tubs of goo.

"Activity patterns have changed - kids today after school are more likely to go home and play video games and sip soft drinks [and] eat snacks, than 20 or 25 years ago," said Kenneth Land, a professor of sociology at Duke and the report coordinator.

So all in all, the War on Obesity seems stalled.

Then again, if we're really serious about this whole thing, maybe we should adopt some tactics from the War on Smoking.

Make the overweight feel horrible about themselves, the way we did with smokers.

Marginalize them.

Turn them into second-class citizens.

Next time you're at the mall's food court, march up to that hefty couple at the next table and bark: "It's not right that I have to inhale the vapors from your Wendy's Classic Triple With Cheese Combo."

And don't just leave it at that.

Pass stringent laws prohibiting the consumption of junk food in public buildings.

Make people huddle outside in the cold to wolf down their Whoppers with cheese and 32-ounce bags of Doritos Rancheros and 2-liter bottles of Dr Pepper.

That'll show 'em we mean business.

War is never pretty.

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