Obesity: It’s not an epidemic

We’re getting fatter but it’s hardly an epidemic. You know why not? Because it’s not a disease. Sit next to a fat person on a train and you won’t catch their fatness. You don’t come down all blubbery and start swelling round the gut. No, that only happens if you spend all day sitting on your arse eating KFC and downing a couple cans of coke.

To help fight the so called obesity epidemic the government are looking to introduce a food rating system. (Reported here on the ABC.) They’ll rate foods from half a star to five star and it’ll be printed on the front of packaged food. The problem there is treating packaged food like it’s real food to begin with. The health food section of your supermarket isn’t the aisle with the gluten free products (though as a coeliac I do appreciate it, thanks Coles), it’s the section with the fresh fruit and veges in it (if you call that stuff fresh; sure doesn’t beat the local market). I reckon we should dumb it down and just print some warnings on all packaged food to the tune of, “Hey dumbarse this food is crap.” If you’re not a dumbarse then clearly the warning wasn’t aimed at you and you can ignore it. The occasional ice-cream, meat pie or frozen pizza never killed anyone as part of an otherwise active and healthy lifestyle.

(Watch what you eat and cycle to work and you can look this good.)

If you cycle enough you can eat almost anything. And will. Bakeries are you best friend. Beer is considered carbo loading. I watch my consumption of alcohol and I haven’t visited a bakery in years (well, yeah, I just admitted above I was coeliac…) but I do eat tonnes of nuts. I just about live on them. They’re one of the few foods I find that give me sustained energy. Also, as a coeliac (I know, I’ve never mentioned it before and now I can’t stop saying it) they’re an easy snack to keep in the car. As much as I’d like to grab a burger on the run, I can’t. So I eat tonnes of nuts. And trail mix. My question is, how many stars do nuts get? They’re chock full of nutrition but, as The Checkout pointed out, they’re also massively high in energy:

If you’re active then nuts are a nutritious way of stoking the engine. I’ve already mentioned before how admirably slim I am. So do you rate foods based on whether people are active or sedentary? And if you’re rating them based on a sedentary lifestyle then isn’t the real problem the lifestyle and not the food?

I find it hard to believe that people don’t already know what’s good for them. I find it hard to believe we need to explain cream buns, fried chicken and potato crisps. I find it hard to believe we need to explain apples and bananas and cauliflower. If we do then we have a different kind of problem. And here’s the real reason I say we don’t have an obesity epidemic.

We don’t have an obesity epidemic, we have a stupidity epidemic.

Obesity has sporned an enormous amount of research. (Perhaps only paralleled by the amount of research that goes into elite athletes.) Research reported here at The Conversation indicates that short bursts of exercise are better than one longer vigorous bout of exercise. Such as, for instance, commuting by bike. Fifteen minutes to work, fifteen minutes home, twenty minutes to meet friends, twenty-five minutes home (because you’re getting lazy). It all adds up. And in terms of hunger, it’s better than one long ride. (I enjoy my  hunger and it’s part of the reason I ride. Food taste terrific. But good on them for finding a way to ride and get less hungry.)

Of course, if fat people were the kind of people inclined to get about by bike they wouldn’t be obese to begin with. And unless we’re going to restructure our cities and convince people they don’t need a big fucking house 45 minute drive from anywhere remotely interesting, we’re unlikely to have more than a handful of people 15 minute cycle from anywhere. And then there’s the fact that a fifteen minute stroll on a bike for a regular cyclist on a fixie is an enormous and insurmountable mountain of a ride for the aspiring fatty with a K-Mart bike.

Australians have no real interest in reducing the size of their cities. In this article also at The Conversation they discuss how Sydney and Melbourne have $20 billion worth of freeway planned. The article discusses how they dust off some old transport myths to justify the expenditure. Though I think it’s great people tackle these myths I don’t see how it’s related to building roads. Governments don’t build roads to move people, they do it to get re-elected. Dusty myths are used to rationalize it just like how everyone I know reckons they’ll go camping and off-road and all manner of exciting shit every time they buy an SUV. And then never do. It’s a neat way to rationalize the expenditure on an entirely unnecessary but desirable object. Governments are the same, they secretly know that freeways won’t help transport problems, but they build them because they provides shit-loads of jobs and gives everyone who drives them that wonderful feeling that finally they’re getting somewhere. It widens the gaps in our cities and creates the pressures and problems of sprawl they pretend to reduce but they’re loved for it all the same.

(More cycle friendly transport infrastructure.)

But there you go, there are real reasons why people in Australia are so fat. We’ll get in a car to go almost anywhere. And it’s hard not to. With the vast majority of people living in far flung outer shitsville you really don’t have much choice. Except the choice over where you live.

We can and will solve all these vast and interconnected problems by putting some stars on processed foods. Apparently. That’s the kind of simple solution to a complex problem you can expect from our collective intelligence. That’s why I say again:

We don’t have an obesity epidemic, we have a stupidity epidemic.  

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