Human beings are social creatures. We like to hang out with each other. We play and watch team sports, go to restaurants, church, concerts, and the movies. We find comfort in sharing those experiences with each other.
Because of this, we tend to adhere to new trends fairly quickly, simply because it makes it easier to remain within the group. There’s no shame in that. It’s simply a matter of adapting to our environment. We learn from our friends and family what is normal, and we build it into our lifestyles. We eat what everyone else eats, and we tend to become interested in what those around us do.
Sometimes, these trends aren’t that important — like wearing skinnier jeans or switching from 8-tracks to MP3s. Sometimes, they’re great — like the growing awareness of the benefits of organic foods or yoga. But sometimes, they’re bad news — like our burgeoning waistlines.
Our society, as a whole, is becoming fatter, and we’re viewing that as normal. Today, two-thirds of America is overweight, with Canada and Europe not far behind. One-third of adults are obese. And we just seem to be accepting this. We have larger seats at movie theaters, longer seat belts or extensions in cars and planes, home bathroom scales that go to 400 pounds. “Vanity sizing” is now a common practice in the clothing industry. What was a size large 30 years ago is now a medium. Think you’re losing weight because those new size 2 Gap khakis seem loose? Surprise! They’re actually size 6.
And, worst of all, many of our medical professionals continue to sugarcoat the truth by not advising their obese patients to lose weight. Why? Because they find it socially awkward.
I, on the other hand, have no problem calling it like it is. We’re a fat country, and we need to fix that. Our lifestyles have changed dramatically. Everything is urgent and there is no time to stop. Food is an afterthought, and when it is time to eat, it needs to be “now.” So we eat drive-through fast food, microwave meals, foil-wrapped bars packed with so many chemicals that they’d survive the apocalypse. High-sugar, high-salt, high-fat, high-calorie satisfaction with low nutrition. Not a winning combination. We’re on a treadmill and going backward. Increased incidence of diabetes, cancer, heart ailments, stroke, and metabolic syndrome are all symptoms of this new normal.
And what’s more frightening in this behavior is that it has been passed down from parents to kids. This is a learned behavior from childhood, a habit that is ingrained in our subconscious and almost impossible to break.
Luckily, there’s another aspect of the human condition that can come into play here. As a race, we happen to excel in finding ways out of “almost impossible” situations. Wars, plagues, financial crises, disco — we’ve surmounted all these things. And now we need to turn our focus to obesity.
To do this, let’s break it down to a simple lesson we learned in high school: cause and effect. The effect is obesity. The cause is too much lousy food and not enough physical activity. It’s pretty simple when you boil it down to these elementary terms. We cause our body to be overweight and unhealthy. We can change that when we learn that we are in charge of what we eat. We are no longer part of this ongoing problem but now part of the solution.
A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that obesity spreads like a virus. If you are surrounded by fat people, they’ll influence you to become fat.
I want you to become the antivirus. Start to lead the way and improve your lifestyle one meal or one activity at a time. Get your friends and family together and cook a healthy meal. Start a fit club in your neighborhood and share your ideas with your kids. Become the leader of your group and go for a hike. Feel good about not eating what everyone else eats and teach others your newfound healthy habits.
You don’t need to do this alone. It’s not just you and me who want to fight this good fight. Take advantage of the fact that we are social animals and gather like-minded people to influence your town, city or state. Find your local healthy hotspots, P90X fit clubs, organic restaurants, farmers markets, classes sponsored by your municipality. If you can’t find any of those, take your search online, looking for fellow travelers on social networking sites.
It’ll take a little work, but you can do it. We can do it. I don’t know about you, but if obesity is the new normal, I have no interest in the status quo. So, come on, let’s end the trend of obesity!