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Jewish World Review July 20, 2001 / 29 Tamuz, 5761

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Consumer Reports

The other, maybe more important, news -- DURING this Tragedy TV era, when the mainstream media rarely focus on more than one story at a time, a lot of important news is either left unreported or woefully underreported. Such is the case with a recent RAND Institute study, which essentially tells us that we are eating ourselves to death. Researchers report that a stunning three out of five Americans are overweight, causing more chronic health troubles than smoking, heavy drinking and being poor.

While we were busy becoming the world's sole superpower, the United States was supersizing itself to superporker status. In "Fast Food Nation," author Eric Schlosser brilliantly chronicles how the growth of our Extra-Crispy-Double-Whopper-Curly-Q- Fried-Happy-Meal food industry transformed the way Americans eat and live. It is undeniable that it also helped us get to our current XXXL condition. This means sharp increases in our susceptibility to arthritis, heart disease, asthma and diabetes and makes our ability to carry out even life's simplest tasks more difficult.

Other recent studies paint a more ominous picture. Children who are excessively overweight may be creating permanent heart damage, according to doctors at the University of Cincinnati. This is especially alarming because experts today estimate that 30% of U.S. children are seriously overweight; in the 1960s that figure was about 3%.

The fat news gets worse. Harvard researchers reported last week in Archives of Internal Medicine that weight considered acceptable by the federal government may still pose serious health risks. Women who fall into the "high healthy" range of body mass index (BMI) obtained by dividing weight by height squared now must think twice before they choose the 2% over skim milk. Compared to women of lower body weight, these women are twice as likely to develop diabetes, 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and 30% more likely to have colon cancer. The statistics are equally as troubling for men in the same range. Conclusion: Lose the extra 10!

There is, of course, no shortage of breathless commentary on our obsession with being thin. Columnist Ellen Goodman recently reminded us that "women have lost their lives in pursuit of thinner thighs." And spending a week in Los Angeles can make even a full-time aerobics instructor feel like a blob. After a few days, I found myself pinching the side of my stomach a self-administered BMI test! Eventually, I came to my senses and had a Baskin-Robbins mint-chip cone.

To be sure, anorexia and bulimia are serious medical disorders, but they also tend to be an affliction of the upper class. Obesity or being overweight is a condition that crosses socioeconomic lines.

So now that we know how dangerous obesity is, it's time to get serious about it. But while it's trendy to wage a war against "Big Tobacco" and noble to continue the "war against poverty," we don't much like taking ourselves to the mat for being fat. Teachers tell our children the dangers of smoking before sending them off to the cafeteria for their fill of pizza and cheeseburgers, washed down with chocolate milk.

In Washington these days, talk of trimming the fat from the federal budget is considered smart politics. But how many politicians have the stomach, literally, to speak credibly about the perils of having a big gut?

Of course, studies on the health costs of obesity will lead some to call for more government regulation or even class-action litigation against the food industry's fat peddlers. Neither route would get to the heart of the matter. Like so many of our social pathologies, this one was created one day at a time, one family at a time, by individuals who repeatedly make bad choices. If we don't wake up soon, we'll see drive-through funeral services popping up in the same strip malls as our drive-through food chains.

06/22/01: Washington's pro-Bono worship is unnerving
06/01/01: Burying conservatism
05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Laura Ingraham