by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
August 17, 2010
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Here is a disclaimer right up front: This article is not to defend obesity but, rather, to point out how it is and how it was.
Where we once were considered fat, chunky, zaftig, buxom, "broad where a broad should be broad," as they sang in "Guys and Dolls," chubby, flabby, corpulent and, finally, obese, now we are called "morbidly obese.'
"Morbid" was a word used for disgusting or "yukky stuff," and spoken with a face expressing offense at the lack of good taste or moral sense. It was reserved for things that turned your stomach, so to speak, as you turned from whatever the sight and felt a loathing. Something "morbid" was grizzly, gruesome, gross.
Those are defining words I always knew and used accordingly. Today, the common definition for the word is diseased and unhealthy. The example is "morbid obesity." The unhealthy disease is obesity. We never heard the word "obese" except as spoken in a movie portraying conversation in the drawing room of a British lord where the King's weight was in question - as was the succession to the throne because they knew his weight was life-threatening.
They blamed it on "gout" - an arthritic condition his doctors said was caused by his diet of rich, creamy sweetcakes and pie á la môde. He topped the scales at 400. (The King shall be nameless, since it was a movie and not a very memorable one.)
The nicknames in my earlier times were Fatty, Fats, Fatso or Tiny - and no insult was intended. They were who they were and we either liked them or not based on other reasons than their avoirdupois.
Long before we saw a bubble of flesh hanging over the waistband of blue jeans, male and female (and accepted it as fashion as we do today) we had fat people. When appropriate, we blamed it on one too many dollops of mayonnaise on a sandwich or glazed donuts fresh from the fryer.
There is no question that an increased accumulation of body fat can change being overweight to becing obese, leaving a person wide open to the risk of dying early from disease. Two examples from earlier times would be the famous actor Fatty Arbuckle, who died in his sleep at 46, and Lou Costello, another roly-poly actor, who died at 52 from a heart attack. No one was surprised. We were beginning to see this happen more and more.
We saw family members succumbing to death in ways we knew were preventable. My father died at 61. Was it his "athlete's heart?"
Early in his career, Papa was a professional hockey player. Yet he was a smoker - three packs a day. He discounted that: "I don't inhale," he'd say. My brothers smoked and died early, none from obesity, all from smoking-related illnesses.
No one puts food in a person's mouth and no one puts cigarettes to their lips, either. But here is the quandary. When does someone - or some agency - step in and take over the environment where smoking is rampant, or with food, the places where children are getting meals heavily laden with fat?
I see the fast-food establishments voluntarily altering their menus to make wholesome food available, along with preparing their traditional food with healthier oils instead of fat. They can't say, "No, you cannot have two cheeseburgers! one to a customer." That would create more uproar than we now hear.
We didn't have "fast food" as I grew up, but we had our ideas about how fat kids got that way. We noticed that kids who had to do homework right after school were fat.
"Ah, ha! They got milk and cookies until it was done," we would explain.
Whether or not we get nutritious family meals has a lot to do with whether both parents work. When that happens, fast food is often picked up or bought frozen, then microwaved at dinner time. They are easy to prepare and leave time to chat with the famly.
Some choose a drive-thru to make it easier for everyone to get to their meetings, sporting events and practices. Frozen meals at the market offer calorie counts, nutrionasl information and a comprehensive list of ingredients on the side of the box, but the print is so small I can't read what's in it or how much per serving there is.
These parents appreciate learning all the good, bad, need-to-know and what-to-watch-for, but they want to make choices based on their own family's preferences.
It is a problem. We are a fatter nation and we worry about our children. They - and we - are not exercising enough. The schools apparently don't provide what President Lyndon Johnson promoted in the '60s, the President's Physical Fitness Award. My children during the '70s participated. and I remember the awards they brought home for climbing up a 10-foot rope to the gymnasium ceiling. They met the challenge.
It was what it was: a challenge. I don't recall it being as mandatory as their physical fitness class would be. There was a need for exercise and it was made available. Right now there is a need for understanding nutrition and the relationship between weight gain and health. That should be made available, not legislated.
The bad press MacDonald's is facing is unwarranted, I believe. The contents of all their food is noted in extreme detail on the back of every placemat. The children don't read it, though; instead, they open their toy or book that comes in the Happy Meal. They play in the Playland until the food is on the table. Their parenats swab their hands with anti-bacterial lotion and dig in with joy. The parent reads how much salt, fat and calories, etc., will be in the apple pies vs. the French fries. Mom or Dad makes chooses what the kids will eat.
Nancy Reagan offered a soft "Just say 'No'" to address the kids who follow their peers into a drug problem. It was a smart notion, but she wasn't the one who quietly searched the kid's pockets and backpacks. That was a parent, and it is their job. Parents can ask agencies for help and a good parent will. Whether or not they did a good job is nobody's business until the kid goes bad, if they do.
As for the food served in schools, I would guess the local school board would bat that around until school, parents and children are all on the same page. That may never happen.
But legislation over freedom of choice is not the way.
To be fair, I asked a friend who is fat and close enough to me to know I was not casting aspersions, how it felt to be overweight in this firestorm over the increase in the number of fat people in America.
When she answered, she had a head-shaking look of frustration and sadness on her face.
"They look at me as if there is an inherent defect in my character," she said, "I have hypothyroidism - low thyroid. I do not overeat."