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Health Hypocrisy: An American Crisis

By Kristen Lamb

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I grew up a child of the eighties, a witness to the beginning of the War on Drugs and America's newfound obsession with dismantling the cigarette industry. In our zeal to make America a healthier place we raised the drinking age, created seatbelt laws, and demonized red meat and butter.

Sometimes, when I think back to my childhood, I stand in awe at all the changes. In eighth grade, ecstasy and products containing ephedrine were available over the counter at health food stores and gas stations, and one didn't get a background check from the government if they bought more than one box of Sudafed. Tempting stacks of colorfully packaged cigarettes graced the checkout lines in grocery stores much like the displays of M&Ms and Snickers Bars. In fact, many kids such as myself probably can recall being sent into the store with a handful of ones to buy a pack for an adult who waited in the car.

Yet, we fast-forward twenty years and ecstasy is illegal, ephedrine is highly regulated, Sudafed requires an I.D. to purchase, and smokers have been banished from public buildings, restaurants and yes, surprisingly enough, even bars and clubs. We are bombarded with commercials to inform us about the dangers of drugs, sex and smoking. Companies test for use of illegal substances and penalize those who smoke. Police officers write hefty tickets for those who fail to conform and buckle up.

And we all gracefully comply because it is for our own good.

Now, I am not saying that any of these changes are bad. However, I find myself stunned at the parent who admonishes smoking or drugs while stocking the pantry with Pop Tarts, Doritos, and Hamburger Helper. "Alcohol is bad, but go get me a Coke." America cheered the underdogs who took on Big Bad Tobacco, yet laughed at those who tried to sue McDonalds for allegedly lacing the food with chemicals to stimulate appetite.

Winston Salem lost billions when it was revealed they'd deliberately added chemicals to make cigarettes more addictive, and yet snack companies operate with impunity. They load their products with refined sugar and wheat and saturate them with ingredients one needs a chemistry degree to understand, labeling it, "More Intense Flavor!"

One has to be at least eighteen years old to purchase cigarettes, yet a six-year-old can buy a bottle of soda that leeches calcium from the bones, causes tooth decay and that paves the way to diabetes. Every package of cigarettes comes with a grim warning from the Surgeon General about disease and death, but I have yet to see a box of Twinkies with any similar counsel.

This product, if eaten in excess can cause your butt to expand and your pants to become tight. In recent clinical studies, Twinkies have been shown to cause obesity which can lead to public ridicule, lower paying jobs and no sex life. Call 1-800-IAM-AFATTY if you need help with your addiction to eating crap.

The government spends billions of dollars educating children about drugs and, while the average high school kid could probably tell you the difference between cocaine and heroin, they'd be at a loss to tell you the difference between Type I and Type II Diabetes.

America is fatter than ever, and yet we are failing to go after the issue of obesity with the same bulldog ferocity we have others. Have a smoker light up in a school and they'd be treated like a terrorist and yet airlines and stadiums are being forced to put in bigger seats to accommodate the larger and larger sizes of Americans. Adult clothing has been resized so as not to damage delicate egos, and increasing numbers of stores carry plus-size clothing for kids.

Tabloids skewered Brittany Spears for driving with her infant son in her lap, and yet little heed is paid to the parent who buys their ten-year-old a 375-calorie Frappucino at Starbucks. Most of us would fall over from shock if we witnessed a child sucking down a Miller Beer. Yet, we don't even bat an eye when a kid walks by drinking a Red Bull that is loaded with sugar, caffeine and suspect herbs powerful enough to stop an adult's heart.

If this isn't the epitome of insanity, I don't know what is.

America doesn't want to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room. Why? What is the difference between marijuana and Moon-Pies? Tobacco and Taco Bell? Seatbelts and Snickers? What made it so much easier to tackle these other topics and yet poor nutrition and obesity seem to get off scot-free?

Is it because most of us struggle with our own temptations along with our waistlines? It's easy to criticize a smoker when you don't smoke, a druggie when you're clean, a boozer when you're sober, or the promiscuous when you're celibate/monogamous. But, how do we criticize a fat person with a doughnut, when our own pants went on a little too snugly that day? Do we, as Americans, fail to go after Ruffles Potato Chips because we, ourselves, indulge? Like the churchgoer caught rattling off a stream of profanity in traffic, do we fail to get serious about nutrition because, if we remain ambivalent, it makes it less embarrassing when we're seen eating French fries?

Honestly, I don't know the answer.

Yet, like they say in rehab, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem. We cannot change that which we won't face. America is obese and unhealthy and no longer has the luxury of denial. Rates of childhood obesity are staggering as we rear a new unhealthy, sedentary, fat generation. As adults, we have to accept responsibility for our own behavior. If we stop buying the chemically-laced, unhealthy food, the market will accommodate. If Americans refuse to keep being poisoned, companies will be forced to change or face extinction.

We need to put our foot down and say no to larger seats on airlines. If you are too fat to fit in one seat, you need to purchase two. Skinny people don't get a 50% discount because they have room to spare. If an airline is going to make seats larger, it is for comfort and customer service, not to accommodate fat, lazy people who make poor choices and don't want any of the consequences.

Criticize those who push unhealthy food with the same fanaticism we unleashed on smoking. Treat morbidly obese children with the same public concern given to a child who is beaten or molested.

Otherwise, America's tombstone will read:

This country once so bold and free stretched from sea to shining sea.
A people proud, they valued choice, and against injustice raised their voice.
They fought for peace and walked the moon . . .
Yet dug their grave with a serving spoon.


Health Hypocrisy: An American Crisis. Copyright 2008 by Kristen Lamb.

All product and company names are registered trademarks of the respective companies.

The above guest article first appeared in the free FitTips for One and All email newsletter.
It was posted on this site April 1, 2008.

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