This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum and was linked on the UPI home page on September 17, 2007.
There is an obesity epidemic in the United States. A quick peruse of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website paints a disturbing picture: the populations of every state have increased in average girth. Children, in particular, are increasingly obese. The Centers for Disease control reports that since 1976 obesity in children has grown from 5.0% to 13.9% among children between two and five years old. For those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 18.8%; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 17.4%.
There are many culprits in the rise in American weight: we’re not getting enough exercise (in part because we watch too much TV), we’re eating junk by the mega calorie, and we’re sloughing off these bad habits onto our children, particularly if our children are poor and must rely upon school meals subsidized by the United States Farm Bill—an unhealthy bit of legislation that ensures our nation’s school children will be fed a diet high in fat and carbohydrates comprised of highly processed corn and soy byproducts (chicken nuggets and pop-tarts show up with alarming frequency on the menu at my daughter’s inner-city elementary school).
Meanwhile, the only person whose weight has caught the national attention is Britney Spears.
True confession time: I don’t think I could hum a single bar of a Britney Spears song, but I shop at the same supermarkets you do, and I read the same headlines as I wait in line, so I know that Britney Spears attempted a comeback by singing and dancing on the MTV music awards show, and I am well aware that her efforts earned her something less than critical acclaim.
To be fair, many of the bad reviews focused upon Ms. Spears’ lack of enthusiasm while singing and dancing, but much also was made about Britney’s physique. Apparently she’s gained some weight since the last time anyone saw her dancing around in a leather bikini.
Now, I’m no expert on Britney’s body, but I found some photos on Britney Spears dancing at the MTV awards, and she doesn’t look particularly fat to me, in fact if the supermarket tabloids are to be believed (which, of course, they are not), Brittney’s bodyweight may be the only healthy thing she’s got going right now.
All this is evidence of something of the depravity of the American condition. We care too much about the size of a celebrity and we don’t care enough about the very real epidemic that is killing American children.
Hopefully this will change. In the next week the US Senate will be deliberating on potential changes to the farm bill, something that politicians in Washington get a chance to do but once every five years. The House of Representatives failed to make any substantive changes earlier this summer when they renewed the farm bill with very few revisions. Hopefully, the Senate will have more courage. Maybe they’ll shift tax dollars away from subsidizing the cheap corn that sweetens our soda pop and toward fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe they’ll do more to underwrite the cost of farmers markets, maybe they’ll even legislate healthy food for the nation’s schools, maybe they’ll demonstrate concern for the poor.
In the meantime, I’m making a vow not to care what flab Britney Spears or any other celebrity may have gathered unto herself, not, anyway, until the weight of American children is healthy.
It is a simple matter of priorities.