A problem of scale

This week, President Barack Obama had his first routine medical checkup since he moved into the White House in January of last year. The New York Times reported the examination found him in “excellent health” and “highly likely to remain able to carry out his duties” for the rest of his term as president.

Details of the physical provided a reassuring affirmation of the president’s commitment to his health, yet the story also brought up the issue of individual responsibility in caring for and maintaining one’s health. After all, it seems hardly fair that we expect a high standard of personal fitness of the president while we turn steadily into a nation of unfit and obese desk-workers.

In 23 states, adult obesity rates have increased, and in 30 states, 30 percent of children are overweight, according to a 2009 report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. No state’s obesity rate decreased.

The reasons for this vary, and many are cited: food with higher calorific value, lower rates of physical activity among the general population and poverty.

Of these, the connection to poverty is overwhelming — various factors are cited in justifying the links between fitness and the ability to afford high-priced food. Primary among these is the fact that fast food chains and mass production have ensured the cheapest available food items come loaded with ingredients that are not necessarily very good for the body.

The food industry has had a big role to play in the obesity epidemic we fail to recognize — an epidemic that grows in size every single day. Fast food chains have resulted in portion distortion, ensuring we eat more often and consume much more with every intake — big bites and big gulps, all contributing to one big problem.

Another phenomenon that goes relatively unnoticed is the ubiquitous presence of snacks in our daily lives. Everything we use, from cars to backpacks to the shopping carts we dump our grocery shopping into, now comes with some form of food or drink holder that enables us to maintain our unbelievable consumption levels.

However, we ignore this issue at our own peril. Quite aside from the moral issues involved in expecting better from a single individual than we do from ourselves, the nationwide problem with obesity is a ticking time bomb. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical costs of treating obesity-related diseases may have soared as high as $147 billion in 2008 alone — this at a time when the very future of health care seems uncertain.

America is faced with a question of scale. The need of the hour is to scale consumption down to a balanced level, or we can forget the feeling of a balanced set of scales.

Kartik feels the leader of the free world should enjoy small freedoms like choosing what he eats. Feel free to disagree at kartikt@asu.edu

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