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Freindly Fire


Chewing the Fat on Obesity

by Chris Freind
 

Let's face it. Smoking is cool.

Yet as the last minority with no rights, smokers get kicked in the butt: high taxes make cigarettes expensive, and society hammers them for their lifestyle choice. Enough already! It's time we stop shaming smokers for just doing what makes them feel good.

So what if smoking causes cancer and heart disease? Who cares that smokers drive up the cost of health care for everybody else? And how dare anyone (especially the government) air commercials showing the effects of puffing tobacco: smokers talking through holes in their throats, amputees, women's faces that look like they were run over by a bus, toothless men, and babies in intensive care because their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

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If smokers are comfortable with themselves, why should we be concerned? After all, it's not how they look on the outside that matters — shame on us for being so prejudicial — but what's on the inside.

Right?

Wrong.

Most people would vehemently disagree with the above, and justifiably so. Since smoking is unhealthy, the shock-and-awe campaigns aimed at reducing it and preventing young people from trying it are widely accepted. And they are, unquestionably, effective.

"Smokers have told us these ads help them quit by showing what it's like to live every day with disability and disfigurement from smoking," said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers For Disease Control. Despite declines in smoking, however, the CDC says the campaign is still needed, as 18 percent of adults still smoke cigarettes and 21 percent use a tobacco product every day.

Hmmm. Something doesn't taste right. Let's review:

An ad campaign employing heavy use of shame, aimed at reducing the number of people engaged in this unhealthy lifestyle choice, is perfectly fine.

But swap out "smoking" for "obesity," and you get the opposite response: a massive firestorm from America's overweight as they circle the food wagons, labeling any such effort as ignorant, insensitive, discriminatory, sexist, bigoted, counter-productive, and, of course, sizeist (love that one!).

Most baffling, they object despite overwhelming evidence that shame campaigns work. In the 1970's, over 40 percent of American adults smoked. Yet the more anti-smoking campaigns became in vogue, the more smoking rates dropped. Now, fewer than one in five smoke.

Tough as this is to stomach, the number of overweight adults has ballooned, doubling since the 1970's (also doubling among children, and tripling among adolescents).

Despite the vitriolic protests from the overweight "I'm-offended-by-everything" class who cries foul anytime someone calls out their lifestyle, they're wrong. They can't have their cake and eat it, too, approving shame so long as it doesn't apply to them. The statistics speak for themselves.

Shame works. And it's time for them to chew the fat on that concept.

The latest episode in America's Fat Wars is a Change.org petition that takes big offense to Old Navy (owned by The Gap) selling women's plus-size jeans for more money than men's plus sizes. It is a story that has gotten huge headlines, but unfortunately has been weighted down by extraneous issues.

First, to Old Navy's credit, the company is standing its ground — a rarity given that corporate courage is in thin supply. Old Navy explained that it utilizes more resources when designing and manufacturing women's plus-size jeans, as its fashion experts craft them to be more flattering. Since men care significantly less about such things, their plus-size jeans are an easier design, and thus less expensive.

But the petition organizer, seemingly ignorant of the reality called "business," called Old Navy's pricing model "sexist" and "sizeist."

Sexist? Not a chance. Sizest? Absolutely. And that's the way it should be. For the 99 percent of overweight people who aren't fat due to a thyroid condition (though you'd think that's the cause of fatness for almost everyone), that's the price you pay when you indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle. To think you're entitled to being treated like those of normal weight is both nave and obnoxious.

Here's food for thought on combatting obesity:

1) The world doesn't revolve around the obese, so they need to stop throwing their weight around and bullying those who take issue with their sense of entitlement. It's simple: if you don't like how Old Navy does things, don't buy their jeans. Same goes for patronizing the other companies eaten alive by the obese crowd: Victoria's Secret for using thin models (hello? It's a lingerie company!), Wal-Mart for its fat-girl Halloween costume, and the Carrot Fit app that uses tongue-in-cheek insults to motivate the user to lose weight, to name a few. The beauty of America is that everyone, even the waistline-challenged community, has the freedom to choose.

The biggest irony is that those most opposed to "shaming" are actually using it against the companies with whom they disagree.

2) Stop blubbering that shaming should not be part of the discussion. It should unequivocally be on the table, and those opposed, rather than simply hurling insults, would serve themselves better by having a rational conversation. If either side has a thin skin, the problem will only grow.

3) It's not just smoking where shame works. Shaming those who used drugs, shoplifted, got convicted of DUI, and even got detention at school, have had considerable success. Why then are so many ducking the obesity issue by ranting about bullying, hurt feelings, sexism and sizeism? Here's a novel idea: let's focus on the actual problem, not irrelevant tangents.

4) Some critics claim shaming only makes a situation worse. If we're going to indulge that thought, there must at least be a morsel of evidence that something else is better. So what is it? Is it positive reinforcement? More education? Counseling? Well, they've all been tried (typically in the absence of shame), and, no surprise, they're not working. So given that the problem is, in fact, growing, doesn't common sense tell us we need to try something else?

5) The problem with the anti-shaming movement is that it cracks open the door to government intrusion. How soon until legislation is introduced banning companies from charging different rates for what a bureaucrat sees as "the same thing?" How long until venues are required to widen their seats, and airlines are told they cannot charge obese people for two tickets even though their girth disenfranchises other passengers? How long until the obese movement tries to become a protected class under federal law?

The real issue is how to gnaw away at obesity (it accounts for over 20 percent of health-care spending) and the correlating rise in diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Insurance premiums keep increasing to subsidize the obese, and worker productivity is down. Most alarming, America's youth are being desensitized to obesity and its negative effects. In a "do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good" society, that's a dangerous recipe. The way to change that "fatitude" is not through government mandates, nor a "pie-in-the-sky, all-will-be-OK" mentality.

There's too much at stake not to lighten America's load. It's time we tip the scales against obesity by embracing shame.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at CF@FFZMedia.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Freind
Chris Freind writes a weekly column for the Daily Times. Reach the author at CF@FFZMedia.com .

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