Turn on your television any time of the day or night and you might very well see Michelle Obama campaigning against childhood obesity. Showing a picture of a young man walking on legs three times too fat, the news programs spotlight the problem. More than one in every three adults in this county is obese and two of every three are overweight. We weigh on average about 18 percent more than we did back in the ’60s.
We have become a fat nation in crisis. Uncle Sam has a muffin top hanging over his belt. Scientists tell us that this may well be the first generation of Americans expected to have shorter life spans than their parents. First of all, the extra poundage is hard on the body, period. Also it causes all kinds of medical problems that the medical profession might not even be able to identify. If too much flesh swaddles the body, stethoscopes cannot effectively pick up abnormalities and lung sounds. Medical scales usually max out at 350 pounds. Excess fat can obscure tumors from the doctor’s probing hands.
Hospitals are being forced to install special beds and equipment for the severely obese, but even that isn’t enough.
Recently an emergency medical team delivered a patient with chest pain to an emergency room in one of the Savannah hospitals. It took six people to move him from the stretcher to the table because he weighed in excess of 600 pounds. Every one suspected a heart attack, but he wouldn’t fit in the machine in the lab. Treating him was guesswork at best. Obesity-related diseases cost this country 147 billion dollars last year.
Who’s at fault? Technically, we are when we put all that excess food in our mouths, then plop on our couches with bags of chips. We drive our cars everywhere. Why walk when we have cars? It’s not the American way. And everywhere we go, food abounds. We have church suppers, breakfast meetings, and working lunches. We pick up magazines with weight-loss programs on one page and on the next, a recipe for chocolate cream cheese brownies. On billboards, fast-food pictures dot the highways, make us salivate, and turn off at the next drive through. Most commercials have something to do with food. Our supermarket shelves are packed with inexpensive, tasty foods packed with calories, and we continuously overindulge.
We spend billions of dollars yearly on weight-loss products, health-club memberships, liposuction, and gastric bypass operations while the pharmaceutical companies try desperately to find a magic pill to melt the pounds away. Nonetheless, the nation’s waistline keeps expanding. Are we doomed?
I’m not sure, but I’m just as worried about another type of crisis-our mental development-our brains. Last week I polled one of my classes about reading, that exercise which develops our minds and our critical thinking skills.
“How many of you read for pleasure?” I asked them.
Not one hand went up. Not even one. This situation terrifies me. Imagine a situation where we’re under attack. There’d likely be no electricity for computers, no phone service, no mass communication. Could we survive? In the past people have relied heavily on books for necessary information. Will our younger generation be able to rise to the occasion if the need ever arises? They certainly aren’t willing to force themselves to do anything in the classroom that isn’t fun, and I’m here to tell you that they find reading boring.
I’m bored, too. I’m bored with hearing lazy teens tell me how bored they are with school work, i.e., reading. We’ve now raised up a couple of generations on video games and television, entertained them to the point that they won’t do anything else. Not only have our physical muscles grown slack and fat, so have our brains. We’d best start exercising our brains and bodies, or we’ll soon be a nation ripe for the taking.