Friday, July 05, 2002

We're killing ourselves for pizza, fries

        I used to feel smug toward smokers.

        I'd pass them daily, huddled round ashtrays outside my workplace in rain, snow and heat. I'd feel sorry for them but self-righteous at the same time.

        They know cigarettes endanger their health, I'd think. They can get help kicking their habit. Why do they still choose their poison?

        Higher health-care and life-insurance premiums — even high taxes on cigarettes — are all justified, I reasoned. Society also is paying in health costs and lower worker productivity, to say nothing of the emotional toll on loved ones of sickened smokers.

        That's pretty tough judgment to heap onto a group of people.

        Now that attitude is being trained on people like me.

A social pariah
        Suddenly, I'm not inwardly smirking anymore. I've become a kind of social pariah.

        No, I still don't smoke. But I am fat. And fat is fast becoming America's new No.1 killer, alongside cigarettes.

        Health policy makers are calling obesity a national epidemic, the hidden culprit behind a growing number of deadly but preventable diseases — heart disease, diabetes, cancer — as well as asthma, arthritis and high blood pressure.

        Cigarettes kill 400,000 Americans a year. Being obese or overweight kills 300,000, according to a Surgeon General's report in December.

        Smokers aren't the only ones stuck out in the cold anymore. Southwest Airlines recently said it will charge passengers for two seats if they can't fit into one.

        I'm in no position to say they've gone too far.

        I have a “body mass index” that peaks into the federally determined “obesity” range. That means I'm wearing too much fat for my frame, according to health standards.

        What's worse, unhealthy eating and less active lifestyles like mine are expected to wreak collateral damage on the economy.

        Overweight adults cost employers more than 39 million days a year in lost work time. Our weight-related illnesses cost $117 billion to treat each year.

        No wonder President Bush preached about exercise in a recent radio address. Only three in 10 adults are regularly physically active — that means they perform a half-hour of at least light exercise five times a week or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week.

        Four in 10 of us don't do anything.

Mom was right

        So, what am I planning to do about it?

        I'm going to re-start an exercise regime and cut down on my vice-ridden eating habits.

        I'm going to finally heed my mother's nagging and eat more vegetables.

        She was being a better parent than many are now. We're allowing our plump children to grow plumper and, possibly, sicker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 12.5 percent of youths age 6-17 were seriously overweight in 2000, more than double the percentage 30 years ago.

        I pledge to not complain if some of the same tactics employed against smokers are trained on people like me.

        Bring on those higher insurance premiums, embarrassing anti-fat ad campaigns and untried new products. Where's that patch for appetite suppression?

        And if states or the federal government impose a few pennies' tax on soda pop, snack foods and fattening fast foods, that's OK, too. Anything to help wean me off doughnuts and pizza.

        At least 17 states have imposed taxes on such “sin foods.”

        That tax could be good for a body, if not for the soul.

        I'll take it bravely, like the bad-tasting medicine it is.

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