Is it just Americans?

By Larry Oxenham, Publisher

We hear so much today about the “Obesity Epidemic” in America we wonder if it is true.

On a personal level, as one who goes through airports around the country at least 100 times yearly, I can tell you the people who travel are much larger, physically, than ever before. And it is especially notable as the airlines have reduced seat size to cram more passengers on board.

But is it just Americans? And are we really more obese than ever.


The government tells us one out of three Americans is obese, twice as many as three decades ago, and enough for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare obesity an epidemic.

More disturbing are statistics relating to children: 15 percent of children and teens are overweight, a nearly three-fold jump from 1980.  (One point we add from our observations is this: heavy parents to have heavy children. Makes sense ….)

But is obesity really an epidemic or is this just more ‘fear mongering’ by the media?

The obesity epidemic, when broken down to basics, is the result of simple math; e.g., the more calories you take in the larger you are likely to get. Experts tell us anything you eat beyond your immediate need for energy converts to fat. And, as Americans have become more sedentary – kids on cell phones, adults sitting on the couch with the remote in hand – less food is needed for energy so more tends to end up as fat.

My guess, and this is just a personal observation, is very few of us really know what our optimal diet is in terms of energy vs. fat. We can read labels on packages – the government has just mandated more information on labels – but there are regular fats and transfats and lots of types of cholesterol and other elements that affect our overall physical structure.

How does an individual, like you and me, know what is the ‘right’ amount of caloric intake?

And there are people who can eat just about anything in any quantity and never have a problem. For example, Lawrence Cheskin, direction of the John Hopkins Weight Management Center, says simply, “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” It doesn’t matter whether your calorie consists of fat, protein or carbohydrate, your body can only process a limited amount. On the other hand, Cheskin says he has never had a weight problem: “Who said like is fair?” Indeed.

But there is no question ‘fat’ has affected our everyday life: Puget Sound ferries in Washington have increased the width of their seats from 18 to 20 inches (20 to 51 centimeters) to allow squeeze-in room for people with bigger bottoms. In Colorado an ambulance company has retrofitted its vehicles with a winch and a plus-size compartment to handle patients weighing up to half a ton (0.45 metric tons). Even the Final Resting Place has had to accommodate our growing girth. An Indiana manufacturer of caskets now offers a double-oversize model—38 inches (97 centimeters) wide, compared with a standard 24 inches (61 centimeters).

An airline employee told me the airlines used to allow 175 pounds for the average passenger plus luggage on board; now it’s 250.

Other than the obvious esthetic disadvantage of being overweight, obesity is associated with 400,000 deaths a year and an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon, breast, and endometrial cancer. We are told there is truly an epidemic of children with diabetes today, a real tragedy because the younger you are when you contract diabetes the more damaging it is; diabetes affects the quality of life and often shortens it. On the other end of the scale more and more people in their 50’s and 60’s and beyond are contracting diabetes.

And it’s all eating related.

Many believe this is a modern issue but it originated back in 1873 at the Vienna World’s Fair, where a dazzling new invention called the steel roller mill was debuted. This innovation brought about ‘refined grains’ making white-flour-based products became more affordable, leading to more ’empty’ calories in the average person’s diet.

By 1910, home refrigerators were in many homes which allowed people to stock up on food instead of shopping daily. And, as we know, if food is right there it will be eaten!

Then, by the 1930’s, railway cars and trucks could refrigerate and transport food across country freeing people from having to shop for fresh food. The corner markets were gradually replaced by supermarkets allowing individuals to shop once for a longer period of time.

Each advancement led to less personal mobility.

But the problem was compounded by what I call the ‘quick fix’ of fad diets and pills. People were led to believe, thanks to a never ending stream of advertisements from drug makers and their willing accomplices the media, that a pill here and there along with a little exercise and all of us could look like the most handsome movie star. Even today our television screens are filled with pharmaceutical ads for every possible health ailment including obesity offering the ‘newest, greatest, fastest’ path to a ‘beautiful body’.

Beyond the pills and potions we have the government which constantly preaches the value of their recommended diet and then changes that diet recommendation annually as their suggestions are found wanting.

Many people can look back at their high school yearbooks and see their happy, slim face and wonder how they ‘expanded’ so much over the years.  Obesity is truly a ‘gradual’ disease that develops silently but inexorably over time.

We don’t believe you have to give up everything you like but we can tell you, again from personal observation, most of the people I know who are overweight eat more than they need. Some started when they were very young because their parents served large portions while others increased their caloric intake little by little and never realized the damage they were causing.

Obesity has so many damaging side effects – appearance, energy, body temperature, disease – it should be a mandate for every family to search for a balance of food and exercise with the goal of feeling good always at the top. Unfortunately, instead of ‘pushing’ everyone away from damaging lifestyles we have stores dedicated to plus sized clothes and movies and television shows that feature obese people as role models.

This is the age of acceptance in America, a time when every deviation from the norm is celebrated, but on a purely selfish level, all of us should consciously fight obesity because it is, quite literally, the “deviation’ that is killing us.

In California we have In-N-Out hamburgers, a Southern California tradition many of us will never abandon. The picture below shows 3 double doubles and a couple of fries, most likely a meal for 3. But this picture was posted by an Englishman who visits California often, noted that ‘Americans are much fatter than Europeans’, says he loves In-N-Out burgers but doesn’t think anyone needs three Double Double and two fries at the same time:

As an American, please don’t consistently eat like this. Most of us don’t. But I would sell my soul for In-N-Out right now.”

We know people who always list In-N-Out as their priority when visiting the state and, since I grew up on In-N-Out burgers I understand why. But the picture does highlight the fact that good food in too great a volume is, well, not so great for you.

We are certainly not experts on obesity but we believe you can still eat well as long as you eat smart, get some exercise, and maintain a great attitude!

So put down that TV remote, stop ordering from the all-you-can-eat menu, don’t fight for the closest parking spot to the store, don’t eat between meals, don’t take drugs, don’t buy into fad diets, walk every day, and let yourself feel good.

Our obesity epidemic is a challenge but it is one we can defeat.

And once we do we can concentrate on other issues; for example, I still weigh the same I weighed 40 years ago but I now have a ‘distribution’ problem to work on!

It’s always something.

Your comments welcome!

2 comments on “Is it just Americans?
  1. Ivan says:

    Larry,great article,and an eye opener for many.As for me I just turned 70 years “young”a couple months ago and I am in greatest shape of my life,never had any weight problem all my life.Reason,there maybe some genetic too,but mostly is your lifestyle,how much you eat,what you eat and how often you eat.And another thing how active are you,If you get more calorie in on daily basis then you put out,by being more active,well then you will in time become overweight,and that is simple as that.Its about our lifestyle,it’s about our habits,about and about our discipline.For example I am light eater,and have always been,also I am very active person,do walk every day 10 km,brisk walk,also do go to gym,2-3 times a week,and lift weights,plus do part time work day or two a week,and also all needed work around the house,so my activity level is high,and I do burn a lot calories each day.if sometimes I am at some weddings and I do get in love with some food,and does happen every once in a while like to all of us,I make sure that next day I increase my activity so I do burn all that excess of last night:) Many times when going to a store which is about 10 minutes walking distance I don’t bother going with a car,I choose to walk,unless we need much more shopping to do,then we take a car.Si again the “secret” is to eat less and move more:)! Take care of your health and your health will take good care of you.My 94 year old grandma once told me: Had I know I would live this long,I would take even much better care of my health:)! I could not agree more!

    • arclarry says:

      Thanks for the good words, Ivan, keep the great attitude and you will be around a long, long time!

      I think your grandma speaks for all of us; we can only hope to reach 94!