We’re Number One! And Gaining

Belly FatWhich is the fattest of the fifty, the most obese of these United States? The winner–they certainly didn’t do any losing, did they?–is (drum roll)…

Mississippi, which weighed in at 35.2% of its citizens obese. (Pun intended.)

My own home state of Missouri came in tenth at 30.9%. The other 8 in between these two were (in order) West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa, all of them with roughly one-third of their inhabitants tipping the BMI trigger for obesity.

We’ve already mentioned that BMI is a notoriously imprecise tool for measuring appropriate individual body weight, but as a tool in the aggregate, it’s much more acceptable. Why? While we might find individuals who are so muscular that their BMI records them as obese when they are actually in great shape–LeBron James being a poster child for this category–those people tend to be the exceptions. Show me a hundred people in the obese range of BMI and you’ll probably find that the vast majority of them have earned that label.

On the other end of the scale–another intentional pun–we find that Hawaii (19%) is the least obese state. What I find troubling is that some of the states with the highest concentration of evangelical Christians are also the most obese, while several states that are notoriously lacking in evangelicals (New York, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts) are all in the least-obese ten. Why is that?

Certainly we cannot blame this steady loosening of the belt throughout the Bible Belt on pot luck dinners. So what is the reason? Are Christians simply so focused on other-worldly things that they can’t push back from the table? Are we totally failing on that whole “prayer and fasting” thing?

All kidding aside, if there is an actual connection between obesity and evangelicalism (and it’s not just a coincidence of geography), then Christians should really be taking a hard look at themselves–especially the middle of themselves–in the mirror. We don’t need to look like fitness models, but we can’t do our best work for the Lord carrying around all that extra tonnage.

Tonight in Dietland…

As I was driving home from a race this morning, licking my wounds after being beaten by one-tenth of a second by a guy in a hand-bike, I happened to hear an interview with Sarai Walker supporting her novel, Dietland. There aren’t a lot of novels that focus on militant fat people, but apparently Walker’s is just such a novel. And I hasten to add that I use the word “fat” because she used that word rather than “heavy” or “full-figured” or somesuch.

I’ve never been a fat (or heavy or full-figured) woman, so I’m not all that well equipped to comment in this area. For most of my life I was a fat man–not huge, but certainly carrying around sufficient weight that I would never make the cover of GQ. Does that count?

If Sarai walker is correct, then being a fat woman is a dreadful thing. She tells the interviewer as much on behalf of her main character.

You know, society hates fat people and she’s been stigmatized her whole life, so of course she hates herself and she wants to lose weight, which is of course understandable. But then when she meets the women of Calliope House, she begins to think about her relationship with her fat body in a different way. She begins to think, you know, maybe there’s nothing wrong with my body; maybe it’s the way that other people are treating me. And so I think that she comes to see it as a politicized issue, because it is. I mean, a fat body is always a politicized body.

I can’t argue that society has a dreadful bias against people who do not conform to expectations of appearance. I also can’t argue that this bias is more pronounced with regard to women than to men. Men, by and large, can get away with being fatter than women. That’s not fair.

My question, though, is whether unfair bias in one direction means that we should simply embrace fatness and dismiss it as irrelevant. Or do we shift the threshold for “fat” upward.

It’s important within the church that we look at people, as much as we are able, in the way that God sees us. In God’s eyes, minus the transformative power of Christ, we are all pitiful creatures swimming around in a cesspool. The “beautiful” people might only be 95% covered with sewage, while the outcasts–the fat, the skinny, the ugly, the scarred–are 98% covered. Would you really brag about that sort of difference? We also have to recognize that we have surfaces other than the exterior that can smeared with foulness. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about white-washed tombs?

At the same time that we attempt to look with eyes of love at others, regardless of their bodily defects, we all need to admit the 95% or 98% coverage of nastiness upon us and work toward cleaning ourselves up.

Sarai Walker seems to sympathize with her band of Fat Terrorists, as if being looked at in an unkind way justifies violent behavior. I’d have to disagree with her on that count. But I can’t ignore the fact that the fellow on the handbike is a bit “heavy.” If I had beaten him, who knows how he might have reacted.

Watch TV, Kids, and Get Fat!

Shocking Scientific Finding: Kids who watch a lot of TV get fatter!

I’m being flippant. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking you’d like to change the channel on me. But the remote is across the room, so you’ll have to hear me out.

A new study suggests that kids who watch as much as one hour of TV a day have a significantly increased incidence of overweight and obesity.

“Children watching one to two hours were heavier than those watching less than one hour, and were almost as heavy as those watching greater than two hours daily,” the study’s author, Dr. Mark DeBoer of the University of Virginia, told Newsweek.

Why would this be, especially when playing video games and using the computer did not lead to similar increases. The researchers did not get to that result, but other studies have suggested that the steady barrage of (junk) food ads during children’s programming could account for some of the problem.

My experience suggests that the passivity of TV is a bigger key. It’s pretty tough to play XBox when you have your hand stuffed into a bag of Doritos, and typing while eating Cheetos leaves that orange crud all over the keyboard.