Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Letter from California-September 7, 2004

Breaking news on obesity: Californians are porkier than ever. Maybe we still look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers next to the manatees and other water mammals in states like Michigan and Mississippi, but a new report came out this week saying that obesity costs California more in healthcare than smoking or any other preventable condition. “Beautiful people” no more, Golden State residents have made impressive gains in the weight category in recent years. At this point, Californians might not lead the league in broken bathroom scales, but we’ve definitely got a shot at the wild card spot.
Before I begin to make merciless fun of this problem, allow me to pause and say how serious the widespread chunkification of the American public is. You really shouldn’t joke about obesity.
You should let me do it. That way, you can still feel morally superior about the situation and blame me if anyone’s offended.
First, I have to prove my street credibility on this. I’m not laughing AT the obese; I’m laughing WITH the obese. The government uses something called the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine which of four categories its citizens fit into: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. Despite my 4 times a week training for road races or my occasional high speed climb up a steep mountain trail, I reluctantly admit that I fall into the last of those categories. On the other hand, it does give me comfort to know that some Californians, ravaged by the disease of obesity, do manage to live productive, meaningful lives. In fact, a few obese Californians have become prominent figures with both personal success and the respect of the community, without any noticeable prejudice toward them because of their heft.
You may have heard of one or two of them: Arnold Schwarzenegger (or “Governor Fatso” as this authors of this report might call him), who led the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness; Sylvester Stallone, who can probably trace his weight problems to all those raw eggs he drank while making Rocky; Shaquille O’Neal, who won only 3 NBA championships because of the limitations created by his morbid weight. Even San Francisco Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds is just a bowl of Rice-A-Roni away from joining Schwarzenegger, Stallone, O’Neal, and me as victims of this cruel epidemic.
Alright, I admit it. That last example is just a joke: Barry Bonds would never eat Rice-a-Roni. In fact, if Barry Bonds owned a pig farm, Barry Bonds’ pigs wouldn’t eat Rice-a-Roni. But Bonds really is borderline obese, according to this study.
But it’s not just sports and governating that have been affected. The movie and TV business has its share of overweight and obese members, too, and I’m not just talking about the obvious doublewides like Cathyrn Manheim or Michael Moore. I’m talking about the Overweight Hollywood Hunks Club, which includes such fatboys as Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Some people are cruel and unsympathetic to these heartthrobs, but seeing them in the grips of this horrible health problem makes me sad and angry all at once. After all the entertainment and general dreaminess they’ve given us, it’s just doesn’t seem fair.
The time has come to reach for our standin’-up stick, get out of bed and solve this problem. In the last 20 years, obesity rates in California have soared upward, like officially-overweight Michael Jordan skywalking his way to the basket. Who’s to blame for allowing California to go from being a state full of Dennis Quaids to becoming a place overrun by Randy Quaids? What can we do about it?
I read a separate report this week that advanced an interesting answer to both questions. It seems that some scientists have begun to notice a connection between a decrease in smoking and an increase in obesity. They suggest that when people stop smoking, they feel compelled to reach for any other conveniently placed object and jam it in their mouths. Often enough, that object is food and the next thing you know, you’ve got a nation of Tom and Roseanne Arnolds.
On the surface, the facts seem to match up. From 1985 to 1997, smoking in California decreased by about 8% and obesity increased by about 9%. Coincidence? Just ask anti-smoking, pro-Krispy Kreme (and all around nice guy; don’t get mad at me, Rob!) Rob Reiner.
So if that’s true, we need to make some changes right away. Instead of taxing cigarettes, we should consider a rebate on every pack. In the long run, it could save the state money by helping keep down the costs of treating action heroes and home-run hitters for diabetes. Schwarzenegger could sponsor a program called “Smoke Yourself Skinny,” encouraging overweight children to follow his example and break free of the prison of obesity by lighting up. It might even be the goal of a new ballot initiative, providing easier access to obesity-reducing drugs, including both Menthols and Regular.
That, or we could all just try not to make pigs of ourselves all the time.
Either way.


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