Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obesity: More Observations (Pt. 2)

When I was a pre-teen I was like a lot of kids today: obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records. (Some elementary school teachers I'm friends with say old Guinness Books found at garage sales for a dime each will keep quite a lot of 4th graders in thrall, even today. Books? Today? Anyway...)

A very old one I received one Christmas was very entertaining, and among the wonders first encountered there were palindromes, which have nothing to do with Sarah Palin. Palindromes are words or sentences or a sequence of sentences that read the same backwards as forwards, exempli gratis: "Madam, I'm Adam."

Apparently there were certain types of geeks who were obsessed with finding the world's longest palindromes, and as I recall there were some crazy doozies in there, but the one that stuck in my mind, the one I was able to remember and entertain grandma with, was this one:

"Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod."

I thought this one just sounded funny: a guy calling a doctor out on his purported expertise? It sounded forced, but I guess it would have to. A long, eloquent palindrome seems too much to ask. I thought the dissenter was probably wrong anyway: a fast does make you lose weight. Or so I thought around age 12.

But now, from the current dietary and nutritional data that I think holds sway along these lines, a fast usually results in a rebound and gaining your weight back. Most starvation diets do. And they're probably not all that good for the overall body's biochemistry and its astonishing intelligence and search for homeostatis. And cod appears to be quite the non-fatty fish, high in protein and Omega 3s. The smart-aleck in the palindrome was right in calling out doc!

Lesson for the dieters: sometimes palindromes contain uncommon wisdom. Read every palindrome with the intensity of a Talmudic scholar! And if you're going to make cod a major part of your diet: you're gonna want to use seasonings, or really just anything to add a little TASTE to your meals. Plain cooked whitefish like cod tends to be beastly dull. Good luck!

                                     Cod, that old staple. Needs broccoli and potatoes?

Obesity: A Huge Deal These Days
Earlier this month a group of Experts (ut-oh!), who'd made a grand study of the obesity epidemic in Unistat, advocated a "major overhaul" of American life. I'm not making this up. Their report - which was 400 pages of fat itself - says around 67% of Unistatians are too fat, and Something Must Be Done in virtually every facet of life to "reverse trends," or we will sink under the weight of...oh, these "fat" puns are too easy and probably too boring for The Reader so I will try to steer clear.

Anyway, the good folks at the Institute of Medicine cram their study - or so I've read about - with "synergies" and how if we do this and that it will "empower" the overweight and we need to take a "systems approach," all of which sounds dandy. We also note how, when reading these reports, there's a whiff of social engineering lurking between the words. Let us not be totally naive idiots and just say it: the Food and Beverage lobbies have everyone cowed with this one: social engineering is code for brainwashing, or at least "Nanny State," right?


Let those who cower in fear at the looming ever-present threat of the Nanny State relax a little. I will explain why in a bit. (Actually, tomorrow. - ed.) For now let's just say your guys have the money.

So this Major Study says we spend $190.2 billion a year due to the ravages of obesity. That's a lot. Let's not ask about their statistical model right now. It sounds bad. Makes us maybe feel like foregoing that second helping of waffles staring us in the face.

Here's a problem they point out, and every other study done I've seen in the past five years that wasn't funded by the Food and Beverage folks: poor people (that's more and more of us) tend to not have access to affordable, healthy, decent nutrition. We can afford Taco Bell and Mickey D's. Also, and less persuasive in all of these studies: the poor - who are prone to the ravages of obesity at a higher rate than the better-off - need time and space to exercise. I can see poor kids in urban concrete canyons not having adequate space to do the exercise they want to do, but what about walking? Is it too dangerous to walk around the 'hood? There's probably something I'm missing with the exercise space issue, and I guess if you're working a crappy 40-50 hour per week job that barely pays a living wage, you will find it exceedingly difficult to find the time for exercise, the lack of space being but one of your problems.

This study also has 17% of school kids obese, which has tripled in 30 years. Separate research predicts 42% of all adults in Unistat obese by 2030, and 11% "severely obese" by then, up from the 5% now.

And according to some right wingers, we already have too much of a "Nanny State." I wonder how fat we'd be without Nanny hovering around us? Or would the Invisible Hand be guiding all of us to our correct, thin and healthy weights? I'm not seeing the Nanny lately. Haven't seen her for good long time, but people say she's lookin' good. I'd like to see Her myself. I bet she couldn't keep me from the Oreos! I'm too sly...Hey Nanny: bring it on, baby!

(Whenever I hear "Nanny State" I picture a 7-foot-tall beautiful black woman, like some African goddess. She's wearing an apron and a long, flowing blue dress with little white checks all over it. She's got a thin waist and big breasts. I find her very sexy. She's always catching me staring at her boobs and she tells me to go finish writing "that thing you're always yakkin' on about." I have no chance with her. She's not "Nanny State" for just any old reason. But that's me...)

                                 My personal Nanny State figure looks a lot like Erica Badu,
                                 Queen of Neo-Soul. She tells me when to put back the 
                                 Chips Ahoy, and I know she's right. Personification can 
                                  be a whole helluva lotta fun, friends!

Another Big Study: Time: Recently
Along with Experts at the CDC, Research Triangle Institute, International and other do-gooders, Duke University's Global Health Institute says recently that we need to try to keep obesity rates level so we can save $550 billion over the next 20 years.

Hold on. I know stats problems mount up quickly - for many independently variable reasons - but if the above study says we spend $190.2 billion a year now due to obesity...times ten years...double that for a second ten years...and I get a number quite a bit higher than $550 billion. Obviously, all sorts of differing criteria and shenanigans (<-----great name for a sports bar that sells Guinness, by the way) will yield different numbers. I know the folks at Duke used the Bureau of Labor Statistics and factored in the likely unemployment rate and how that affects obesity, and also fast food, alcohol and fuel prices.

When we boil any one of these studies down, all discrepancies aside, we're fat, and the Situation looks dire, and we really need to do some major league "slimming," as the Brits call it, a term I first encountered in that same Guinness Book. Here's a brief story a Slimmer of the Year, who, spurred on by a nasty comment from his daughter's friend, lost 12 stone, 10 lbs, or 178 pounds. Unistat Experts consider being over 100 pounds overweight as "severely obese."

Dr. William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is often quoted in articles on long term effects of obesity. He says here that - you guessed it - healthier choices must be made more accessible and affordable.

                                                   DrWilliam Dietz of the CDC
                                                   He cares about our collective girth.
                                                   That's his job. He looks serious to me.
                                                   He cannot compete with Erica Badu,

Some Good News!
Okay, enough with the prognostications from the researchers at the Institute of Fat Studies saying we'll all look like Fat Bastard by 2030, while the Experts at the Dom DeLuise School For the Study of the Zaftig say we'll all be "plumper" by an average of 13.7% per capita compared to today's numbers and blah blah flabbedy-flah blah. Two lovely women, one from the CDC and one from the National Center For Health Statistics (NCHS) point out that, pretty much, Unistatians' ballooning obesity rates may have leveled off already. That's something to jump up and down about until we start wheezing and have to sit down in a beanbag, right? Dig:

Recall that we have decided a rather crass way to determine obesity called Body Mass Index (BMI): take your height and weight and you get number. If you're below the normal range, you need to get into the kitchen, STAT! There's the normal range, and then if your BMI is 30 or over, you're "obese." The stats from this analysis has obesity rates stable from 1960 to 1980. From 1976 to 1980 we spiked 8%. They measure obesity every two years. Between 1988 and 1994 another spike of around 8%. (Why?) Between 1994 and 2000 a rise, but between 1999 and 2008, a leveling off. Around 2000, women in Unistat were fatter than men, but in the ten years since then, women have gotten thinner, men fatter. We're about equal now.

Enter good ol' William Dietz again, who takes the long view and compares public health education and individual consciousness to cigarette smoking. The knowledge that smoking was bad for you started to be broadcasted regularly in the mid-1950s, and between 1950- 1965 we see very little in the way of people quitting smoking. These things need time to percolate into mass consciousness before people start to get tough with themselves (with a little help from the State). By the 1980s, we began to see a steep decline in cigarette smoking, and Dietz thinks the obesity "epidemic" will see roughly the same trajectory. So we may have already leveled off.

We may have.

It could be that all the "by 2050 everyone will be built like a planet" warnings from experts are all wrong.

Maybe. This is part of why this subject is so fascinating to me: the complex of dynamic adaptive characteristics of the problem make it an intriguing thing to try and get a handle on. And the problem is so close to all of our homes. We're all in this. There are many steps to be taken, pun intended. And with the scope of the problem I think it's safe to say we have enough on our plates to....ooops! Sorry! One too many for today.

NEXT: the elephant in the room, AND: some Big Thinkers on why we're fat.


Eric Wagner said...

Good blog. I think of Karl Popper's arguments against historicism, or Kerouac observation that "Nobody, nobody, nobody knows what will happen in the next five minutes," an observation Bob Wilson attributes to Husserl.

michael said...

Do you mean Bob misattributed Kerouac's quote to Husserl?

Popper's work in The Open Society and Its Enemies seems to me woefully underrated by, not only the general public (or they would've seen W and his Neo-Cons as something to avoid!), but many degreed people I talk to.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb loves Popper too, and for understandable reasons...basically: the ones you've alluded to above.

The meaty problem: the questions around the role of utopian thought?

Eric Wagner said...

No, I think Bob meant Husserl expressed a similar idea about the uncertainty of the future. Like, now that I've finished Proust, will I ever learn French well enough to read it in the original?

In terms of utopian thought, people like Bucky and Bob Wilson wrote about the high probability of relative utopias, not their inevitabily.

I had real trouble finishing The Open Society. I did find it useful, however.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I doubt that poor people lack access to healthy goods. I've lived and worked in places that weren't noted for high incomes, and vegetables, beans and rice were easily available. I think you've nailed it with your smoking analogy: It's going to take awhile for information about healthy eating to percolate to the uneducated and the stubborn. (I don't eat as well as I should, so I'm in the second category.)

michael said...

Last week I ran across a couple articles that challenge the Obesity Experts about nutritious food supposedly being too expensive for "the poor" (what is that? 60% of us now?).

Something that almost never comes up in the various obesity studies is the basic joy of eating. Do we really want to quash that? I don't think so; one thing we can educate ourselves about here is a mindfulness when we do eat. Really savor it. Go a bit more slowly. Think about where the food came from, how lucky we are to have it, even if we are indulging at Mickey D's.

And probably more of us can stand to walk or ride our bikes a bit more?

William Dietz and the smoking story seems right to me too. An irony? The anti-obesity people seem so urgent. They want "fast slimming" in a similar way that we want "fast food." But I really think we will see a gradual slimming over the next 30 years, or until we get wiped out by an errant asteroid.

Psuke said...

I would be more concerned with the "obesity epidemic" if I weren't so suspicious concerning the guidelines. I am 5'4" tall and have weighed as much as 145 lbs when I was working an office job, taking the bus and didn't have a lot of time for exercising. Also not much time for cooking, and thus eating a lot of prepared food, which is mostly filler.

I was, perhaps, not at my healthiest, but I was not at all *fat*, possibly plump but only barely. According to the BMI stats of the time I was pushing obese. Which is insane, and probably contributing to the rise of eating disorders among men and women.

Could we be healthier as a nation? Oh, heavens, yes...but healthier food options, especially regarding pre-made food would help a lot with that. Eating healthy may not cost much in terms of money, but it does take a lot of time and planning. Not easy to come by when one is at work for 45-50 hours (when "lunch" is factored in) and commuting for another 10+ hours a week.


Why, yes, this is a subject quite close to my heart...