Obese and Obesity Become Part of American Life Requiring Social Reevaluation.

#obesity #overweight #diet

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

On the bus the other day, an obese guy asks, “Anybody sitting here?”

“You are,” I responded without raising my head. By the time I looked up at him, it was too late. Noticing his ample girth, I realized that he was really asking, “Can I have a third of your seat, sir, please?” I looked immediately for the armrest to divide my seat from his, hoping to pull it down before his bulk prevented me from putting it in place. The bus had none.

He took his seat and I was forced to scrunch up against the wall of the coach. I quickly extricated my left arm from under his hammy right shoulder and folded it across my chest so that, by clutching my right shoulder,  I could relieve the pressure on the left side of my body from the avalanche of flesh rolling up against it.

The Importance of Being Politically Correct

OK. I know that it is not politically correct to diss obese people. As I understand it, behaving disrespectfully toward obese people makes them feel bad about themselves. One way they deal with feeling bad about themselves is consuming large quantities of food. Food, as my brother wrote, is the comfort barn. A downward spiral results. It is unlikely, however, that praising a hefty person for developing such ponderous bulk would have the opposite effect.

“Damn, brother, I got to hand it to you. You must have put on at least 30 pounds since the last time I saw you. Way to go.” Saying nothing  at all seems to be what the  obese prefer.

As it stands, we bite our tongues. In our silence we are, as a nation, living within our own version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Obese people are big minority, consisting of 30 to 35 per cent of the  population depending on the survey cited. They want to feel good about themselves. They want other-than-large people to feel good about them also and look upon them with acceptance, if not approval.

It is challenging to be accepting when another has usurped one full seat and a third of another in a public seating area when the additional third belongs to someone who paid good money with the expectation that he or she would be comfortable. Everyone cringes when one these huge citizens waddles on board or down an aisle, fearful that the vacant adjacent seat might be the new arrival’s destination. The armrest is immediately forfeit. Following, it is as if the nation would be expected to yield at least the Atlantic Seaboard states without a word to a foreign power to accommodate its need for additional space. The limited amount of room that remains available is often so small that it is impossible to shift position throughout the duration the flight, the trip, the show, whatever.

Possession is nine tenths of the law. The hefty person in the adjacent seat feels no discomfort, shifts his or her weight whenever, and looks on as if everything is just hunky-dory—oblivious to the misery he or she created for the person on either side.

It needs to become acceptable to call an usher or an attendant and ask for a different seat. The request might go as follows, “I don’t wish to offend anyone, but I can’t be comfortable when the person next to me is taking up so much of my seat.”

The Price of Politeness

None of us do that, of course, just as we often did not speak up when we were offended by somebody smoking. It took proving secondary smoke was hazardous to our health to embolden us. We seem willing to tolerate being deprived of comfort, however, rather than embarrass the stranger who is causing it. Perhaps the super-sized folks take the good nature of others for granted. If that is the case, tolerance is enabling.

One way around the problem would be for the manufacturers of public seating to provide larger seats for those who bring correspondingly large anatomy to occupy them. The larger seats could be placed randomly throughout the sitting area. Records could be kept at the box office or ticket counter of their location. If seats are reserved, information regarding a patron’s height and weight should be requested. Given the current ratio, one seat in every three should be big-boy size.

Theaters could advertise, “Larger seats for larger patrons.” Marquees might read,  “A seat the size you deserve.” Or, “We won’t let you sit anywhere unless it fits.”

Hazards of Health and Public Offensiveness

Obesity looks as though it is here to stay. 97 million adults are overweight or obese in the U. S. As a nation, we beat back smoking by convincing people it was unhealthy and offensive to others. The morbidly overweight lumber around as if the same perils do not apply to them. The heavyweights need to acknowledge that depriving others of comfort for the duration of a flight or a show in a theater is offensive, if not painful. The health hazards of being overweight are formidable. Some studies project a collapse of the American medical care delivery system in a few years because the herd thundering into late middle age will overwhelm it as they become afflicted  at a rate higher than the average with hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate and colon cancers.

The hundreds-of-thousands who quit smoking over the past two decades attest that humans, given the incentive, can break being addicted. Alcoholics do enter and remain in recovery. While it is argued that food can produce many of the same conditions in the brain as other chemically based addictions, food in itself is not addictive. The Surgeon General will never need to post warnings above grocery store entrances cautioning that consuming food is hazardous to human health.

Overcoming any addiction is difficult. It takes will power and resolve. Living with diabetes or recovering from open-heart surgery is difficult and a lot more expensive.

The obese probably endure some level of censure from the public. They may work twice as hard to gain respect from others as their physical appearance may lead others to think that are self-indulgent and lack self-control. As with smokers, however, the public is not likely to be compassionate. Like smokers, the obese have set themselves apart by their own behavior. If they are victims, they have chosen the role. Beginning is easy. Stopping is much more difficult.

Behavior versus Being

Even Shakespeare realized that no wishful thinking would carry off excess flesh. “O that this too, too solid flesh would melt,” cries Hamlet (who is usually depicted as a thin young man.) An important distinction is that smoking is a behavior, whereas obesity is a way of being. Thus, to strike a negative chord about obesity is to attack the being of the person. Eating, as a behavior, is not offensive, even when the person eats too much. We all eat. Smokers generally did not define themselves as their habit. The obese, however, seem to be saying, “Accept me as you find me.” The problem then is immediately redefined as a tolerance rather than a health issue.

A reversal of the alarming trend will probably depend on a change in the social/psychological arena. Obese people need support in overcoming their weight problem. Feeling sorry for them is counterproductive. Being sympathetic because they suffer the inconveniences of all sorts is also. Falstaff, for all his bluster and quick wit, is a tragic character. He is tragic in his grandiosity because he is otherwise so unfulfilled, The brothers and sisters of Falstaff may endure a similar fate. A life devoid of fulfillment is a fate common to many and yet one that most recognize is not overcome by eating.