Some interesting theories on Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It have been popping in the news lately – and no, I’m not talking about the book by Gary Taubes. I’m talking about ideas proposed by … uh … well, let’s call them somewhat less-brilliant researchers.
A doctor in St. Louis, for example, has decided that the main cause of the obesity epidemic is pregnancy:
National experts have suggested that if a woman is obese, she should gain far less weight when pregnant than previously thought: just 11 to 20 pounds. But one local doctor says even that is far too much. Dr. Raul Artal, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at St. Louis University School of Medicine, says an obese woman who gets knocked up shouldn’t gain so much as an ounce — and then adds that pregnancy, not an unhealthy affection for fast food and the La-Z-Boy, is “the main contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country.”
I believe the doctor is onto something. While researching Fat Head, I was surprised to learn that back in the days when obesity was rare, the vast majority of women never became pregnant. All the propagating of the species was accomplished by a small minority of women who then gave their babies to women who preferred to remain thin. Pretty much every family was made up of kids who were adopted — which is how Puritans and the upper-class British managed to raise large numbers of children without ever engaging in sex. It was also the reason that every individual bore a striking resemblance to at least 200 other individuals in their geographic area. Sure, the gene pool was a little shallow, but people were thin and that’s what mattered.
Unfortunately, all that began to change in the late 1960s with the arrival of loose morals — which became even looser after disco music was invented in the 1970s. Women who wanted to raise children began insisting on having their own babies, and the obesity epidemic was born. (By pure coincidence, this was also around the time the McGovern committee told everyone to eat more grains and other carbohydrates.)
I know what you’re probably thinking: if Dr. Artal is correct that pregnancy is the primary cause of obesity, why are so many men obese? All I can tell you is that both times my wife became pregnant, I got fatter. I can’t explain the biological mechanism, but I expect science to provide an answer eventually.
Since women apparently plan to keep producing their own babies, the real question is what to do about all the obesity their pregnancies are causing. A professor of bioethics has come up with a solution that was recently praised by a columnist for the Boston Globe: we need to shame fat people into better eating habits:
“Hey, fatty! Pull that doughnut out of your pie hole! You look like a pig, and you are costing me, and every other taxpayer, billions of dollars in unnecessary health care each year!’’
How do you like my new public service ad campaign, designed to stigmatize the overweight and the obese in the same way smokers have been made to feel the knout of social opprobrium for the past quarter-century?
I got the idea when I heard Professor Daniel Callahan, the retired cofounder of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institution, speak on a radio program about two weeks ago. Why aren’t overeaters subject to the same stigmatization as smokers?, he mused. Why not indeed?
Callahan makes a persuasive case: 67 percent of Americans are overweight, he writes. “Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, and kidney failure. There are some prima facie reasons for thinking about stigmatization as one more arrow in the quiver of possible solutions.
“It can hardly be said that obesity is beyond individual control,’’ he continues. “So, why not stigmatize [the obese], bringing social pressure to bear?’’
Boy, if only someone with Professor Callahan’s deep understanding of what causes body-fat accumulation had been around when I was becoming an obese adolescent, I would have remained lean. When we had to play shirts vs. skins in gym-class basketball games, it just never occurred to me to feel ashamed of my fat belly, love handles and boy-boobs. If the naturally-skinny boys in my class had cared more about me (and been armed with Professor Callahan’s insights), they could have helped me out by calling me names like Lard-Ass, Fat Boy, Pudge, Booby Boy, Porky Pig, or Butter Butt. I now realize that with their kind-hearted acceptance of me (and the one other fat kid in class), they were inadvertently acting as enablers.
So to all you obese people out there who are happy with your bodies, it’s time to look yourself in the mirror and feel ashamed! Don’t wait for Professor Callahan’s ideas to catch fire and inspire some do-gooders to shame you … be pro-active and take responsibility for shaming yourself.
I know what you’re probably thinking: But what about all the fat babies being born these days? Babies aren’t capable of shaming themselves … if they were, they’d be more conscientious about where and when they fill their diapers.
Never fear. The British government has an answer for the wee tykes: get them to exercise more!
The British government says children under five — including those who can’t walk yet — should exercise every day. The new guidelines were issued Monday, partly to fight the obesity epidemic.
In them, the department of health says children under five who can walk should be physically active for at least three hours a day. For babies who can’t walk yet, the government says physical activity should be encouraged from birth, including infants playing on their stomach and swimming sessions with their parents.
I have to admit, I don’t know whether this advice will prove to be effective, since my only experience is with two little girls who are active even when I’d like to them slow down for a change. Last night, for example, they grew bored with watching Man vs. Wild from a seated position and decided to construct a bridge between the sofa and an ottoman, using several household items as building materials. When the bridge fell down under the older daughter’s weight, I thought they’d give up … but nope, they just built a new one. When that one fell down, they changed designs and built yet another one. When that fell down, they built another one. I was expecting them to start whistling the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai any minute.
But if the British government wants the “get your baby to exercise” advice to be truly effective, I’d suggest they combine it with Professor Callahan’s insights and shame babies into working out. Then you’d have a sure-fire cure for childhood obesity.
“Come on, Junior! Wiggle those arms! One-two-three-four … you’re quitting at four reps? What are you, some kind of baby?”
“No wonder you’re so fat. Look at you, you little butterball! You’ve got thighs like canned hams!”
“That’s baby fat, coach!”
“Yeah, sure it is. Listen, kid: you’re fat because your mother listened to some old Bee Gees songs from the 1970s and then went out and got herself pregnant, so now everybody’s fat. Well, not here in jolly old England, Butterball! Not on my watch. Now drop and give me twenty.”
“Be quiet! Hey, what did you just put in your mouth?”
“Is there any fat in that thing?”
“I’m a baby. I’m fat all over.”
“Then take it out of your mouth, now!”
Yup, with all these brilliant new ideas being proposed, obesity will soon be nothing more than a bad memory – like disco.