It has occurred to me that fat has no truth in our society.
Alcoholics, drug addicts and gambling addicts, we know, are troubled and irresponsible, probably immoral, and certainly guilty.
People with anorexia or bulimia are troubled and vain, but admirably disciplined, and more or less victims of the media’s unforgiving body standards.
People who eat too much, on the other hand, are what?
They are not the token fat kid at the hotdog-eating contest anymore. Overweight people make up the majority of our population.
Can nearly an entire culture be considered troubled and irresponsible? Are they out of control? Are they victims?
What about the parents of fat children?
A UK doctor stirred up controversy last month when he suggested that obese children should be taken away from their parents.
At least 20 cases of extreme child obesity have been investigated by child protection authorities in the UK.
In February, the mother of an eight-year-old boy who weighs 218 pounds was allowed to retain custody of her son, under the conditions that she “safeguard and promote the child’s welfare” — rather than encourage a lifetime of health problems if his weight gain is not brought under control.
Dr. Matt Capehorn, an expert on obesity who runs a weight management clinic, introduced a motion at the British Medical Association’s annual meeting that “the government should consider childhood obesity in under-12s as neglect by the parents, and encourage legal protection for the child and action against those parents.”
Fortunately, it was almost unanimously rejected.
Capehorn qualified his motion by noting that parents of obese children are more likely “poorly educated” than neglectful. They are also more likely to be poor.
In the Western world, statistics show that education levels and income are directly related to obesity; where historically it was a sign of luxury among the rich, fat is now the burden of the poor.
Studies in Canada show that 25 per cent of kids living under the low-income cut-off (about $34,000 for a four-person family in an urban centre) are obese, compared to 16 per cent who live above the “LICO.”
The general rule seems to be that weight increases as income decreases.
But the truth of fatness is less simple.
Unlike other social ills, it is impossible to hide — if you are fat, fat is who you are. And if you are a young child, your fatness is not your fault. But is it really the parents’ fault?
If obesity is linked to poverty, is it the parents’ fault that they are poor?
If it is linked to inactivity, is it the parents’ fault that physical education in the schools is once or twice a week instead of every day, as it once was?
If it is linked to lifestyle, is it the parents’ fault that television, computers and video games are so pervasive in our culture?
If it is a simple matter of overeating or eating the wrong foods, is it the parents’ fault that we are barraged with messages to consume fast foods and junk foods almost exclusively?
Just as Canada is considering banning the incandescent light bulb to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our government needs to take charge of obesity — and publishing the Canada Food Guide just isn’t enough.
Of course the food industry has got to be tackled and with more vigour than ever before.
It is not enough to force producers to include health information on packaging. They are too savvy and have successfully continued to market unhealthy foods by relying on consumers’ continued ignorance about ingredients and total reliance on fat content and number of calories.
There are ways to do this without going head-to-head with big business, as governments are loath to do.
Massive funding to organizations to market healthy eating might have the effect of a MADD campaign.
Shocking labels like what we see on cigarette packages would surely send a message.
How about bringing gym back to the schools and taking pop and candy bar dispensers out of our public facilities?
How about helping to make fresh fruits and vegetables as affordable as a Big Mac?
I understand where Dr. Capehorn is coming from. In his line of work, he sees the tragedy of childhood obesity every day.
In extreme cases, some kids can barely walk, let alone participate in gym class. Others are suffering from type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, diseases once strictly the domain of grown-ups.
So should grown-ups be punished for ‘neglecting’ their children to the point of extreme obesity? I think the better question is — should children be punished because their parents have been neglected by their governments?
In our society, Ronald McDonald is more recognizable than a sweet potato and the Golden Arches are as prevalent as city parks. It kind of makes you wonder why all our children aren’t fat.