Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another missed opportunity

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just come out with a report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America in 2007," in which it makes the same tired (and superficial) observations and beats the same dead horse some more. According to the report:

* Adult obesity rates rose in 31 states last year.
* Twenty-two states experienced an increase for the second year in a row; no states decreased.
* A new public opinion survey featured in the report finds 85 percent of Americans believe that obesity is an epidemic.

This last one made me laugh out loud. And this proves what, exactly? That most Americans will believe anything the media spoon-feeds them? Deep into George W. Bush's second term, we already knew that. But I digress.

* Rates of adult obesity now exceed 25 percent in 19 states, an increase from 14 states last year and 9 in 2005. In 1991, none of the states exceeded 20 percent.

Of course the report fails to mention the change in the BMI chart that created millions of new overweight and obese people overnight. Oops--I digress again.

* "There has been a breakthrough in terms of drawing attention to the obesity epidemic. Now, we need a breakthrough in terms of policies and results," said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of Trust for America's Health.

You got that right! You'd think that maybe this would be the moment to stop, take stock, and say, Wait a minute, maybe we're fucking up here. Could it be that we're actually making things worse by flailing around? But no. Levi went on to say, "Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are robbing America of our health and productivity."

Give me a break. He's just parroting the conventional lack of wisdom that says all fat people are couch potatoes eating junk food and watching TV.

The press release goes on to tout other "key findings":

* Twenty-two percent of American adults report that they do not engage in any physical activity.

But there's no context for this. Has this changed? I think people are more physically active now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. When my grandmother and mother were my age, they weren't out hiking the Utah mountains or dancing all night. They didn't go to the gym, jog, or play softball. And yet we're the ones who have the "obesity epidemic."

Once more, an opportunity for reflection and going beyond the conventional wisdom--sadly missed.

But the report does more than list problems. It proposed solutions. Solutions like this one, which tops the list:
* The federal government should develop and implement a National Strategy to Combat Obesity. This plan should involve every federal government agency, define clear roles and responsibilities for states and localities, and engage private industry and community groups.

I don't know whether to fall on the floor laughing or be truly frightened. And what about this:

* Federal, state, and local governments should work with private employers and insurers to ensure that every working American has access to a workplace wellness program.

I don't want a workplace wellness program, because what I know about them is that they're as much a joke as school wellness curricula. They exist to penalize workers who don't measure up to the approved guidelines, through surtaxes for those who are overweight, for instance. Unless they're paying for health club memberships for employees, and giving them an hour and a half lunch to go work out, I don't want to hear about it.

If RWJF has its way, our already eating-disordered culture would go beserk. Talk about obsession--they want to get the whole freaking government involved.

What a nightmare.

**Read the press release yourself at www.rwjf.org/newsroom/newsreleasesdetail.jsp?id=10512, which also has a link to the full tet of the report. Sorry I can't link it--still remote blogging.

13 comments:

lindsay said...

Federal, state, and local governments should work with private employers and insurers to ensure that every working American has access to a workplace wellness program.

What, like Two Minutes' Hate?

Yeesh. I'd like to know who they expect to pay for that. Ultimately, it's the employees who will be doing so - and frankly? Isn't our economy in a crap enough state as it is?

Anonymous said...

Workplace wellness is the biggest joke.

I work for a health insurer that subscribes to this madness. Every once in a while, a VP will get it in his craw to go for a walk and its a big to do- emails go around as to when the walk will be, reminders, etc. People go for the 15 minute jaunt and act as if they discovered exercise. Meanwhile, since I have WALKED to work (45 minute walk) or to the bus stop (20 minutes), I stay behind and actually WORK at work. Then co-workers nay-say about my health, my not participating, cluck cluck like hens.

Come time to go home, my work is done and I WALK to the bus stop and once I get near my home, I WALK from the bus stop to my house. They are mad because they are staying late (in a salaried position, getting no more money for staying late) and I left on time. Which getting home to my 4 kids is my BIGGEST priorty, not brownnosing during a 15 minute trot downtown.

Fillyjonk said...

Twenty-two percent of American adults report that they do not engage in any physical activity.

Any word on how much this actually overlaps with the whatever percent who are "obese"?

Rachel said...

Our local NPR station reported on this yesterday and closed by saying "25 percent of Ohio residents say they never go to the gym."

The inference is clear: fat people are fat because they're lazy and don't exercise.

Yet, Ohio is in the midst of a great recession. Jobs are leaving in droves. My state tuition raises by 9 percent each year to the point where it now rivals private schools' tuition (Thanks Bob Taft).

The reason 25 percent of Ohioians don't go to the gym is probably because they're too damn poor to afford it.

But it's easier to think they're just lazy, right?

Becky said...

"25 percent of Ohio residents say they never go to the gym."

What is this obsession with the gym? There are so many other ways to get excercise! I do a work out tape in my living room. Other people jog, or bike, or walk, or swim at the city pool. Cheaper than a gym membership and more fun than the treadmill.

Fillyjonk said...

I'll answer my own question -- apparently there is a correlation (correlation, mind) between inactivity as they define it and obesity as they define it. So I will subtract 1 from the 897967297627 things wrong with this report. Among those things, of course, are the definition of obesity and their definition of "moderate exercise" (which, like "25% of Ohioans don't go to the gym," is clearly tailored to privilege ritualized and expensive Working Out).

Harriet Brown said...

anonymous,
your comment made me laugh, because when I worked for a Big Company that was exactly how it went. we had "walking teams" and they gave out prizes, etc., to the teams who walked the most. it was like being in elementary school. and the "walks" were generally 15-minute walks at lunchtime, because you wouldn't want to be away from your desk for more than that.

fillyjonk,
dead on. there are lots of ways to get exercise. in fact it's better when you build it into your life rather than ghettoize it by going to a gym, etc. i have a friend who was diagnosed with diabetes and needed to find a way to get more exercise. she works on the 9th floor. 15 minutes of climbing stairs at lunchtime worked out perfectly for her. no fancy gym membership needed.

there may indeed be a correlation between inactivity and obesity, and i'm the first to advocate for more activity. (in fact i'm writing this from utah where i'm on a hiking trip. having a little altitude sickness, which is why I'm inside at the moment. :-)) but this report still doesn't address the reasons for the supposed rise in obesity. i think sandy over at junkfoodscience.blogspot.com has addressed this well, pointing out that this so-called increase amounts to about 3 pounds per person. (not to mention the downward shift in the standards.)

i think this is fodder for the Onion, myself.

carrie said...

Harriet,

Just tell the Onion not to make onion *rings* out of it.

Have fun. I've always wanted to do a hiking trip, but no one's really the outdoorsy type in my family besides me.

Katy said...

Aside from ALL the other obvious issues here, is this REALLY the best way the government can think of to spend its time? Forty-something million (or more?) Americans are uninsured--a number that also happens to be rising (without changing the definition of "uninsured")--not to mention all the people who have insurance that won't pay for anything anyway. Maybe the rise in so-called "obesity related illness" has to do with the fact that people aren't seeing doctors until a crisis hits because it's too damn expensive? And if you can't afford insurance, you sure as hell don't have the disposable income for a gym membership. (I haven't seen the inside of a gym since my crazed over-exercising days--bad lazy me. Except I somehow still manage to get regular, sane exercise. I can't think of anything more boring than staring at nothing running nowhere. I don't think I'm alone in that.)

Maybe politicians/government health agencies/etc. think that if they keep berating US for "failing" to be healthy, we won't notice the way's THEY ARE FAILING US. The mentality behind the hype is insane--clearly the message is out that we're all lazy and obese, but getting the message out hasn't changed anything. How does it then stand to reason that shouting it louder will solve the problem? (And if it doesn't, it'll at least leave all of us screaming at the top of our lungs in frustration.)

Harriet Brown said...

I hate to be cynical, but I think the subtext here is profits. The weight loss business is already a multi-billion-dollar business, despite the fact that it gets piss-poor results. Now with government sanction, imagine the money there is to be made.

Tara said...

* The federal government should develop and implement a National Strategy to Combat Obesity. This plan should involve every federal government agency, define clear roles and responsibilities for states and localities, and engage private industry and community groups.
I don't know whether to fall on the floor laughing or be truly frightened.


Be frightened. Be truly frightened. But fall over on the floor laughing as well.
Are you freaking kidding me?! What complete absurdity.
Did you know, in my state, 1/8 of the children in foster care can't be accounted for. That's 1 out of every 8 kids. They deem the parents unfit, take the kids away, and then don't know what they did with them!!!
Having some unfortunate experience as a kid w/ that whole system, this made me even more furious. And now they want to keep track of our health?! They better go find those kids and take proper care of them before they even give this another millisecond of thought. Are you kidding me?! Seriously, this is just outrageous.

I hope you're having a nice camping trip, by the way. I've always loved camping & rock climbing.

Harriet Brown said...

They lose 1 kid out of 8? And this is acceptable? My god.

I once worked for the NYC board of education and found it so laughably incompetently bureaucratic I had to write an oped about it, thereby losing my cushy consulting job, but oh well.

It's really sick and really scary.

We're just back from our Utah hiking/whitewater rafting/mountain biking trip. It was fab. Thanks for the kind wishes!

Anonymous said...

As for me workspace wellness program is not so important!