I hear a startling bit of information on the radio.
I listen to NPR. For those of you who favor reality TV over reality, NPR stands for National Public Radio. It’s PBS (Public Broadcasting System) for the radio waves. Funded by “listeners like me,” charitable foundations, and corporations looking for tax breaks, it’s primarily talk radio with news and information shows that go far beyond what you can find on regular television and radio. News shows focus on politics, foreign affairs, literature, science, and other topics that people who think actually think about.
My friend Jim says that NPR is for liberals. But Jim worships Rush Limbaugh, so I can’t take anything Jim says very seriously anyway.
The other day, on my way to work, the discussion on Talk of the Nation or the Diane Reems Show — I can’t remember which one I was listening to — they can be very much alike at times — focused on the problems with Social Security and Medicare. As you may (or may not) know, both services are in financial trouble, although Medicare is in much bigger trouble than Social Security. Why? Well, the government is paying out more in benefits than it’s collecting and it isn’t earning enough on the balance of funds to sustain it. (I think financial mismanagement is partly to blame for that, but that’s not the point here so I won’t pursue it.)
The man being interviewed — and forgive me if I can’t recall his name or the position that gives him his expertise — presented a shocking piece of information. For the first time in decades, the average life expectancy of Americans is going down. Yes, down. That means that today’s Americans are not expected to live as long as Americans a few years back.
The cause of this sorry statistic: obesity.
The phrase “ugly fat American” takes on new meaning. Not only are we spoiled rotten and accustomed to having our way with the world (thus making us “ugly” in the eyes of the people who really don’t like us), but we are literally fat. And those fat tissues are starting to eat away at our life expectancy.
If you’ve got eyes and you use them to look around yourself in public places, you must have noticed it by now. There are a lot of fat people. But worse yet, there are a lot of very fat people.
Look at yourself. Honestly. How many extra pounds are you carrying around?
Heck, I’m overweight. I’m 5’8″ and weigh about 30 pounds more than I should. Anyone looking a me would likely say to himself, “Now that’s a big girl.” He might not use the word fat, but that’s only because (lucky for him) he hasn’t seen me in a bikini. My height helps camouflage my extra pounds. Those 30 pounds are 20% more pounds than I should be carrying around. And I can feel that extra weigh. Last spring, when I weighed 20 pounds less (can you believe it?) I felt better. Healthier. And my clothes fit a heck of a lot better, too.
I was lucky enough to have a high metabolism until I was about 30. That meant I could eat as much as I wanted and never put on a pound. In fact, for a while, I had trouble keeping weight on. In college, my weight dropped down to 105 lbs. I looked terrible, like a walking skeleton. I began to have digestive problems. I wasn’t anorexic — it wasn’t like I was trying to keep the weight off. I was just too darn busy. Working two jobs, commuting 30 miles each way to school, shouldering an 18-credit course load. I had trouble finding time to fit meals in. Then I moved on campus and got on the meal plan. That fixed me up. They made these warm rolls….
As time ticked on, my metabolism adjusted. Now I have to watch what I eat to prevent myself from getting any heavier. And I have to diet to take off the pounds. I’m on a slow diet now. I’d like to drop 20 pounds over the next few months. Maybe by the end of June. We’ll see how I do. I’ve been at it for a week and have lost 3 pounds. Big deal. But if I can keep that up, I’ll do okay.
Obesity runs in my family. (Yes, it has been linked to genes.) At 5’1″, my mother weighs more than I do. Her brother (my uncle), who died last year, was at least 100 pounds overweight. He did a lot of sitting in front of the television in the last few years of his life, and pretty much ignored the doctor’s recommendations about diet. He developed diabetes (which also runs in my family) and heart problems. We weren’t surprised when he died at age 69. Instead, we were surprised that he lasted that long. Fortunately, I have a good helping of my father’s genes. He’s always been tall (6’4″) and thin as a rail. So was his mom. I think that spared me from a fat fate.
But my 30 pounds of extra weight is nothing compared to some of the people I see when I get out and about. I’ve seen many people who are 50, 75, or 100 pounds overweight. There are people who can easily be described as round. People who, if you tipped them over on their side, would roll down a hill with arms and legs sticking out, just like in a cartoon. People who are so fat, they have difficulty walking, so they wedge themselves into one of those motorized carts at the supermarket when it’s time to do their grocery shopping. And around the house, when they’re not hiding the La-Z-Boy from view with their bulk, they use wheelchairs.
Don’t these people understand what’s happening to them? Don’t they care? Don’t they want to be healthy and active, to live life to the fullest — and longest — possible? Why won’t they get help?
And what of the millions of Americans like me who are “just a little” overweight? How many of them don’t make a conscious effort to stop their weight gains and start to reverse them? They’re 30 pounds overweight one year and 40 pounds the next. Then 50 and 60 and before you know it, they’re spending more time on the sofa in front of the television than moving about — simply because that’s the only thing they can do.
I don’t want to live forever, but I also don’t want my life cut short by obesity — something I can prevent.
How long before the rest of this country wakes up to what’s quickly becoming a leading contributor to early death?