During the past five years, my weight has rollercoastered between a fit 185 and an obese 226 pounds. At 200, I am currently just shy of being obese again, but I am earnestly working my way back below 190. I am not after a six pack or a beach body. I just don’t want to be grossly overweight. I also don’t want to end up with Type 2 diabetes or hypertension. And, above all, I don’t want to be part of our embarrassing and costly national trend toward portliness.
As a nation, we are getting fatter and fatter. According to the recent flurry of articles published in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to outlaw the Big Gulp in New York, the percentage of adults who are obese has doubled since 1970. Worse, during that same period, the percentage of morbidly obese adults has tripled, as has the percentage of obese children. In short, one out of three US Americans is obese and it is costing us billions in avoidable healthcare expenses and extra energy use.
I remember the first time I read an article about this worrisome trend. Surprisingly, it was not a health article. It was a report by the airline industry. At the advent of the new millennium, the airlines discovered that the average weight of passengers had increased by 10 lbs., costing them an extra $250 to $300 million in annual fuel costs over the previous decade. This report prompted me to write my first column on our national weight gain problem. It also inspired me to view my personal battle of the bulge in a patriotic context.
Much of our national weight problem can be explained by simple math. Thanks to sugary drinks and oversized portions, we consume 10 to 15% more calories per day on average than we did in 1970. We are also burning fewer calories by being more sedentary -- TV watching is at an all-time high. More calories and less activity equals stored fat. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why waistlines are expanding.
It is time to acknowledge that we are progressively changing from the "Land of the Free" to the "Land of the Fat." We can no longer hide -- literally -- the evidence. A walk through any grocery store or a visit to any buffet provides both the smoking gun and the suspects -- myself included -- necessary to prove the case. There is no denying that we are becoming a fat nation.
We need to adopt a national plan for losing weight. And, the plan has to be to eat fewer calories. All the new workout programs are great, but it is unhealthy, expensive and inefficient to load ourselves with extra calories and then head to the gym to burn them off. It is also a losing battle. Sooner or later, the body is unable to do the physical labor necessary to burn the extra 1,500 calories we are taking in and the pounds slowly build up. We wake-up fat at 50, having been trim and fit most of our life.
We also need to be motivated by good health and economics, not good looks, to eat properly. Our ability to discipline ourselves based on vanity is always destructive, but the fact is that it wanes with age. We need to see being overweight as a waste, not a fashion issue. This shouldn’t be hard since recent estimates suggest we are spending over $190 billion dollars a year on obesity. A hamburger oozing grease sitting next to a semi-solid sweet tea should make us see medical bills, not salivate. It is time to be repulsed by stacks of fat and sugar, not seduced by their addictive nature.
Every good battle needs a rallying call. I have a suggestion for a slogan for our much needed national campaign to lose weight: Food is Fuel. We need to get back to eating for the right reason. Seeing food as fuel again will help us stay conscious of why we eat. We don’t overfill our gas tanks. Likewise, we shouldn’t overload our stomachs. It is time to put an end to feeding our appetites instead of our engines. This is the most assured way back to being a fit and free nation.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.