Fat: are we just accepting it?


Earlier this year, I was traveling to Vancouver from Edmonton by airplane. I was irritated that I had to sit in a middle seat. The aisle seat was vacant but the plane was sold out.

As the passengers were boarding I noticed a very large man coming down the aisle. He must have been around five foot seven inches tall and 350 lbs. I am a pretty good judge of weight just by looking at someone. I can usually get it right give or take three pounds either way.

Of course I’m thinking, as is everyone else on the plane that have empty seats beside them, “Don’t sit by me, don’t sit by me.” I know it’s rude to think like this but it’s the truth. I am already relatively big myself — six foot one at 205 lbs. There was no way we could sit beside each other without our bodies touching the entire flight.

As you may very well have guessed, he sat right by me. I’m not sure how he squeezed into the seat. I thought it would have been impossible by the sight of him but somehow he managed. I guess fat is very pliable.

During the entire flight, I had to tilt my body weight onto my left butt cheek so that I would not be rubbing him. Thirty minutes into the flight my left glute muscle was numb. I felt glad I wasn’t flying to Toronto. The worst part was the overweight dude’s oblique fat is covering the television control panel on my armrest. I am not sure what the polite protocol is here. Can I just lift his fat off my armrest and change the channels? Do I ask him to stand up every time I want to look at a different station?

I chose not to do or say anything. I had to watch Animal Planet the whole time. I did not want to embarrass the man by making him aware of my discomfort. The sound of his breathing showed me he must have been uncomfortable too. There was a wheezing with every breath he took. That much fat around the lungs and throat must make it very difficult to take a normal breath. It was like the fat was trying to choke him. This situation made me think of a few questions:

  • Was I being too critical of this person?
  • Do people have a responsibility to others to keep a reasonable shape, health and fitness level?
  • As a society, have we just accepted that we are getting bigger and bigger?
  • Are we aware of how big we really are or is our perception distorted because everyone around us is big as well?
  • Should individuals change the amount of excess fat on their bodies or should we modify our world to fit the growing obese population?

I read some research that stated in 1978 the average weight of a women in North America was 17 lbs lighter than today. The average weight of a man was 19 lbs lighter. This statistic concerns me.

If the trend continues every thirty years, the average weight of a female by the end of this century will be over 200 lbs and a man will be closing in on 300 lbs. What will our world look like? Will everyone be driving around in electric scooters instead of walking? Will there be moving sidewalks like those currently in airports? Will we have to make cars and airplanes bigger?

Disneyland is already making all the seats on their rides bigger to accommodate overweight children. It seems they are accepting the obesity epidemic. They are certainly not helping by selling all the junk food and giving people golf-cart rides to and from their cars in the parking lot.

The big problem is the role obesity will play in our health care system. The combination of our aging population and the health complications in younger people from being overweight will cripple medical care for everyone. There is no way we will be able to pay for senior care in addition to the diabetes, cancers, liver disease and heart disease that younger people and children are now getting but should not be.

I believe everyone has the right to choose how to live their life. However, I also believe people who are grossly overweight have a responsibility to their family and the rest of society who must now have to take care of them. I’m not sure what the right answer is. Maybe we tax the hell out of unhealthy food products and use the money to treat obesity-related diseases. If you want to eat Eggo Waffles then its $25 a box. If you want a Big Mac, fries and a Coke then that’s a $50 hit.

Another option is to have everyone do an annual check-up with the family doctor. If you meet the standard for body fat levels, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc for your age then you get a health tax benefit for not being a burden on the health care system. I know both these suggestions would be impossible to implement, but why not brainstorm some ideas?

Maybe the best answer is to make it easier for people to make smarter choices. Reducing the cost for healthy, nutritious, organic foods will make it easier to make a smarter choice. People may still not make the right choice but they won’t be able to use the “too expensive” excuse. Memberships for gyms, costs for a personal trainer, purchasing a treadmill; anything that is meant to enhance your fitness and reduce body fat should be tax deductible.

I found some interesting research by the school of nursing at the University of Nevada done in September 2007. The research was on parents’ perception of their child’s weight. The findings were that 94 per cent of overweight parents did not correctly classify their child as being overweight. Of all the mothers polled, 60 per cent did not have a concern that their overweight child had any current or future health implications.

The problem with this misconception of obesity is that if the parents do not recognize it, they’re less likely to intervene to help prevent the risk factors of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and other related complications from occurring. Researchers determined many reasons why parents are reluctant to acknowledge their child as overweight:

  • A distrust of growth and weight percentage charts.
  • Did not know what constituted being overweight.
  • They feared being judged as bad parents.
  • They had optimistic bias.
  • They felt helpless to make changes.

The most prominent reason parents were reluctant to acknowledge their child as overweight was that many other children are the same size or bigger, so it was okay for their child to be heavy. I can understand this type of rationale but does that make it okay?

If you walk around most shopping malls, eat at any restaurants, or go to watch any sporting events at least half the people you encounter are overweight or obese. If this is the new norm, then our children see that it is okay to carry extra fat on their body. What a disservice we are doing to our youth. Just because our generation could not figure out how to deal with the obesity epidemic we have condemned the next generation. We have set an example that fighting fat is futile, so why even try? Everybody is doing it, so why not join in? It was probably the same situation back in the ’50s and ’60s where everyone thought smoking was cool and that it wasn’t really that bad for your lungs.

There is an organization called NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). They exist to help overweight people fight discrimination against them. Their motto is “understand it, support it, accept it.” They justify their cause by stating that 95 per cent of all diets fail and that there are over 65 million people in North America classified as obese.

NAAFA wants people of every size to be accepted with dignity and equality. I firmly believe that no matter what the person’s size, respect and equality should be given to them. If you are the most qualified person for a job then you should get it no matter what your size.

The problem I have is the “accepting” part. I believe if you ask any obese person “Do you wish you had less fat on your body?” they would answer “Yes.” Being obese really has no advantage unless you want to be a professional Sumo wrestler, are stuck on a deserted island with no food, or enjoy the difficulty of moving your body around doing simple tasks.

I say DON’T accept it. It’s not easy, but don’t let fat be a prison that restricts what you do. The freedom of a lean, fit body is an amazing experience. Do not die before you realize the genetic potential you could have had.

It’s worth the effort.