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America's weighty problem

Posted By Richard Grenier On 09/23/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

In November, you’ll be able to see for yourself, because Playboy will
have her right on the cover.

Who? Chyna — born Joanie Laurer. We can assume she’s pretty. But
is there anything else distinctive about Miss Laurer? What made her
catch Hugh Hefner’s eye?

Well, she weighs 200 pounds, which is a bit unusual for a Playboy
pictorial, even one that’s six feet. So it’s hard to miss her. And we
are making her acquaintance courtesy of the World Wrestling Federation.
So our Pictorial Miss of November is a 200-lb. lady wrestler. But what
does she look like? That’s the interesting part. She’s quite
beautiful. But how can a 200-lb. woman be beautiful? You see? I’m not
that independent. I share fully the attitudes of my time.

Years ago, I worked for Mr. Hefner and still feel a tinge of guilt at
the beauty-discrimination we practiced. If you weren’t beautiful — and
slim — we couldn’t use you. But now the tables are being turned on me,
at least by the multitudes. And America — men and women alike — are
getting fatter by the minute. In the current issue of “Glamour,” which
leads with “Glamour Survey: Am I Normal Sexually? 1,500 Confessions –
What Real Women Will and Won’t Do in the Dark,” contains some alarming
figures about obesity. The current trend is for corpulent crusaders to
jump off the diet bandwagon shouting, “I won’t apologize for my size!”
expressing pity for women who are victimized by the tyranny of thinness.
But fat is far more dangerous than thin.

Judith Stern, cofounder of the American Obesity Association, has
pointed out that the public outcry drawing attention to “eating
disorders” is wildly disproportionate to the problem. Anorexia and
bulimia are “serious disorders,” she says, “but they are diagnosed in a
mere one percent (anorexia) and three percent (bulimia) of the
population.” People should be much more concerned about obesity, which
is far more deadly than these “disorders” and far more prevalent.

The numbers are staggering. According to the Center for Disease
Control, excessive weight kills 300,000 Americans a year, ranking second
only to smoking among preventable causes of death. Fatness is indeed a
proven risk factor in a long list of life-threatening conditions: heart
disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cancer. What’s even more
alarming is that a state of pronounced corpulence is becoming the norm
in this country. As defined by the National Institute of Health, 55
percent of adults in the United States are overweight — 97 million
people. Nearly one quarter of all adults are technically obese. For a
woman who is 5 ft. 6 in. a healthy weight is between 120 and 155 lbs. At
more than 155 lbs. she’s overweight. At 186 lbs. she is, frankly,
obese.

And, from what NIH tells us, the prevalence of obesity has increased
dramatically since 1980 across all races and age groups. At the rate
we’re going now, “every American will be medically overweight in 20
years,” says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition at Penn. State, who
has studied obesity for more than two decades.

But what about all those people who are genetically predisposed to be
fat, you ask. There’s nothing they can do about it, is there? Yes,
there is. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, in an
editorial published just last October, CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan
wrote, “genes related to obesity are clearly not responsible for the
present epidemic of obesity, because the gene pool in the United States
did not change significantly (after 1980).” What has changed
significantly is the portions of food people serve themselves. We seem
to have lost all perspective on the sheer quantity of food we eat — and
this has been increasing steadily.

My subjective experience is perhaps relevant. I have spent something
like half my adult life in Europe — principally in Paris, France. And
every single time I have returned to the United States after a period
spent in France, I have been absolutely shocked at the quantities of
food served. French food is good but the French don’t overeat
Next time you are on the French Riviera in the summer, look at the
bodies and compare them with what you see at Atlantic City. “Those who
accept themselves at any size and say it’s OK to be obese,” warns
Professor Rolls, “are pronouncing their own death sentence.” At the
same time, advances in technology have made us lazier than ever.


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