Democracy vs. Weight Control

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on September 21, 2003 · 0 comments

Is the big war of the 21st Century going to be against fat?

There’s no question that the increasing weight of Americans affects economic, social, political and health issues. Fatness cost more than $117 billion a year. As the obesity crisis worsens, politicians, corporations and advertisers are challenged to champion consumers in their desire to get thin. But, to be politically correct, these groups must also stand behind those same citizens when they become fatter. The consumer is left with such mixed messages, they are unsure what to do.

Turn on the T.V., read a magazine, walk on the street and you are bombarded with calls to eat, next to ads for weight loss groups, weight reducing foods, or pills guaranteed to melt away pounds. At the mall you can shop Lane Bryant or Torrid, clothing stores for women and girls that sell hip fashions in sizes to up 26. Walk a few more steps to the food court for a super-sized lunch, washed downwith an iced latte with whipped cream, and accompanied by a doughnut. On the way home, stop at the fitness chain Curves. The fastest growing franchise in the country markets to women with bat-wing arms and stomach rolls. Being heavy is becoming socially acceptable.

Southwest Airlines, attempted to charge overweight customers for two seats, but backed down when faced with lawsuits. Fast-food companies, targeted as culprits in America’s obesity problem, are introducing salads, fresh fruits, and more nutrition information on their web sites. They’re not just trying to do the right thing – they’re hoping their actions will forestall litigation and legislation. Major food companies are reformulating products and refocusing advertisements to show active lifestyles.

There is a move to make restaurants disclose nutrition information for all menu items. When you consider the combinations that need to be considered, the chore would be staggering. But on the other hand, consumers have no idea what’s in the food they order, even when they presume the item is healthy. For example, the average dinner salad (with dressing) can have 500+ calories and a whopping amount of fat.

Though not a revolution, there is a growing movement toward a healthy, weight-conscious lifestyle. Insurance companies are even considering charging higher premiums to those who are overweight, much like they do for smokers.

Will all these efforts slow the rate of obesity? Nutrition labels have been on packages for almost 14 years. Fast food restaurants, including McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, have provided nutrition information for over a decade. Weight loss products and programs, gyms, and exercise gurus have come and gone, while Americans keep putting on pounds.

Perhaps the answer is rooted in our democratic process. Americans have been taught they have choices and no one can take that freedom away. Those choices extend to what to eat and when to move. It’s questionable if we’ll ever become a country of universally slim and active people, but we can become a country of healthy people. Taking charge of your health is an individual decision, and it’s your choice.

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