Tuesday, April 20, 2010
With Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign happening along side ongoing promotion of incredibly unhealthy food as reasonable meal options (french fries passing as vegetables, "Lunchables" passing as lunch, Kraft Dinner passing as a reasonable donation to food insecure families, toddler meals laden with sodium passing as specially made for toddlers, McDonald's passing as the food of champions, and more), there has been a lot of talk about food, body image, and health.
Personally, I am not a proponent of fat shaming. By that, I mean that individual overweight people should not be held up as examples of our poor nutrition and lack of exercise. I say that for four reasons. First, I know that not all overweight people are overweight due to poor nutrition and lack of exercise because genetics plays a strong role. Second, even if someone isn't eating as well as they should or exercising as much as they should, there probably are tons of societal factors working against that person and making it difficult for them to change their habits. Third, I don't think that shaming people is likely to bring about any real change in behaviour. It will just make people feel worse about themselves. Finally, too many people (girls and women in particular) are obsessed with their looks, size and bodies.
That said, I don't think it is wrong to talk about statistics. I think we need to talk about statistics to make it real to people that our society is getting more and more unhealthy all of the time. Sure, obesity is genetic to some extent. But when the entire population is getting fatter and fatter, that isn't one person's genes. That is an epidemic. Heart disease is also genetic to some extent, but when more and more people are suffering from heart problems we need to ask why.
But at the same time as talking about the outcome (we're less healthy), we need to talk about the cause and what we can do to change the status quo and stop the trend. I think those changes have to happen on an individual level (i.e. we need to be motivated to get outside more, to exercise more, to eat healthier foods) and on a societal level (more green space, more active time in schools, more affordable healthy food options, less promotion of crappy food to kids and families). People always talk about choice...you can choose not to buy the crap that is pushed on you, you can choose not to sit inside watching TV, you can choose not to smoke. I believe in giving people credit for being smart and being able to make their own choices, but I also call bullshit on anyone who says that societal influences are not significant.
Let's focus on healthy food and healthy lifestyles and how we can make them more accessible to each of us and especially those less fortunate than us, rather than singling out the fat kid or the fat mom.
P.S. Thanks to blue milk for her post we are what we eat, which inspired this post even though I didn't find a way to work it in to the text directly.
Image credit: woodleywonderworks on flickr