Monday, May 7, 2012

War Against Obesity

More and more I see articles and posts about the obesity epidemic or plainly put by some, against fat people. Now, there are many arguments as to why more than 30% of American adults are obese and another 30% are overweight: bad diet, sedentary lifestyle, lack of nutrition education, income and access to fresh food, tax structures that make cheeseburgers cheaper than celery, and as a planner, a poorly built environment. Here are a few recent articles to start:

"No Longer Just "Adult On-set'"
"The Linked Burdens of Obesity and Diabetes"
 "Fat Forecast: 42% of Americans Obese by 2030"
 "Everything's on the Table in the Fight Against Obesity"
  "Obesity: Moms May Need Reminder That Too Much Baby Fat isn't Healthy",0,3137744.story

Our car-centric lifestyles prevent many Americans from walking to school, work, or to the store. Traditional Euclidean zoning that creates separation of uses also creates barriers to a car-free lifestyle. Streets are designed with vehicles in mind, pushing them through as quickly and efficiently as possible (LOS!), while active forms of transportation such as biking and walking are rendered dangerous endeavors. One of my professors, Dr. Richard Jackson, created a four-part documentary series that looks at many of the factors of the built environment that contribute to the obesity epidemic.

HBO has its own documentary premiering this weekend.

With all this focus on obesity and being overweight, will any of it change? Creating bike-friendly, walkable environments is something that will take years and people love their cars, so then what? I read a blog where the author wrote he is "tired" of fat people. The reactions in the comment section were irate. Yet I can empathize with the author. While there are many socioeconomic factors that come into play (which I am in no way discounting), for those that have the financial means and are educated about diet and exercise (some of my friends and family), yes, I am tired of seeing them literally killing themselves as their weight continues to grow. I have friends and family who I love, and diabetes and other chronic diseases are just around the corner, if not already there. There is the added issue of sensitivity. If I were to ask one of my family members to come workout with me, that person would take offense to the notion that they need exercise. Even my father suffers from sleep apnea due to being overweight, and he knows it's bad to eat as many cookies and chocolates as he does, yet he continues to do so. So what's the solution? How can we motivate people to do something?

I can speak personally about weight loss and know that it's hard. I was overweight for several years, but came to this realization: I EAT LIKE SHIT. Having a giant burrito every day for dinner is not healthy, even if it does have some tomatoes and lettuce in it. And dancing at the bars and clubs at night? That's not really exercise. Especially after downing half a dozen high-calorie drinks through the course of the evening. So I got off my sedentary butt and started eating right and getting daily exercise. It took a few years to get to a healthy BMI (not skinny, but healthy), but I did it. It's definitely not easy and to this day, every single day is a struggle to make the right food choices and incorporate some form of physical activity into my day, even if I have to wake up before the sun comes up for a run. I understand that this isn't the solution for everyone (access, preexisting conditions, etc), but can work for many. I just don't want to see my friends and family suffer from preventable diseases. So whether it's through urban and regional planning or just trying to encourage health and exercise, I'm fighting a war against fat, a war against obesity. It's good to know I'm not fighting this battle alone. I just hope we win.

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