Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Individuals, Not Society, Must Treat Obesity

Author Micki McGee says "social forces" in America has led to obesity

One of my readers pointed out this Oxford University Press column today by sociologist and self-help skeptic Micki McGee.

McGee is the author of a book called SELF-HELP, INC: Makeover Culture in American Life where she asserts that people need to become more socially active in order to help bring about changes in their life rather than turning to the plethora of so-called "self-help" books and other resources that pervade the United States of America today.

Before I get into what McGee wrote in her column detailing her theory about why obesity exists in this country, I'd like to briefly comment on the thesis of her book. While I agree people should be intricately involved in supporting meaningful changes that can make a difference in their lives, I don't see anything wrong with attempting to learn from those who have personally gone through a similiar circumstance that they are dealing with already. We can learn a lot from people who have gone down a path in life that we suddenly find ourselves staring at.

My book, "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb," for example, would be considered a "self-help" book along the lines of what McGee condemns in her book. But let me ask you, is there no intrinsic value in reading a book about a man who lost nearly 200 pounds and changed his life forever by implementing specific and detailed changes into his life after 32 years of being overweight and obese? From what I have read about McGee, her answer would be an uncompromising and deliberate "no."

That's throwing the baby out with the bath water if you ask me. Automatically dismissing ALL self-help books as opportunistic capitalist endeavors that avoid providing people with any real answers to their specific problems is not giving the American public a great deal of respect (or hope!) for having enough discernment to distinguish between the good from the not-so-good. But I believe in the power of individuals to make good choices for themselves and to glean from the experiences of those who have gone down similar paths already.

But enough of that already. What about this article that McGee wrote about New Year's resolutions? By the way, are you still on yours? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

We're barely halfway through the month of January and most people have likely abandoned their desire to lose weight ... YET AGAIN! McGee notes that "losing weight" is the top goal of most people in their list of resolutions ever year because Americans by and large (VERY large!) have become incredibly fat. Let's call a spade a spade. The truth of the matter is that we have.

Like just about every social commentator, McGee has her own theory about why weight gain has seemed to "suddenly" happen in America.

"There are social and economic forces at work here," McGee writes. "As (fellow social critic) Barbara Ehrenreich points out, for many Americans weight gain is an occupational hazard."

What she means by that is that a lot of people have a desk job or a job that requires them to remain in a stationary position for their 8-10 hour shift. How are these people supposed to fit exercise into their daily schedules, McGee wonders? Interestingly, there was a study released in August 2005 that asserted Australian men who have an office job are more likely to become overweight because of their "sedentary" lifestyle. Hmmmm.

Furthermore, McGee believes government support for the automobile industry has made it more difficult and even "dangerous" to incorporate fitness activities into our daily activities. We'll come back to this point in a moment.

She then says that our food is so chock full of corn syrup -- again, because the government strongly supports and subsidizes the corn industry -- that it is leading people to develop diabetes and is perpetuating the obesity problem.

You'll get no arguments out of me regarding the saturation of harmful HFCS in just about everything we eat nowadays. It's pretty ridiculous that sugar in the form of corn syrup is almost a given in the vast majority of foods today. Next time you go grocery shopping, take a glance at the nutritional labels (which is a good idea anyway!) and see how many products you buy have "corn syrup" in them! You'll be amazed!

Another contributor to the obesity problem, according to McGee, is the lack of sleep that too many Americans are dealing with. My friend Regina Wilshire addressed this topic previously and noted that getting a good night's sleep in not only good for weight loss, but also for your overall health. McGee agrees and says that too many Americans, especially mothers, are "chronically sleep deprived."

Looking at inflation-adjusted comparisons of income, McGee concludes that Americans are poorer today than they were three decades ago which is resulting in an economic tsunami she refers to as a "financial famine." Even worse, she says the proliferation of obesity has undoubtedly contributed to this trend because obese people tend to earn less money than people with lower body mass indexes.

I have previously blogged about the indelible connection between weight and wealth as well as the issue of poverty playing a role in rising obesity rates in the United States. There is clear statistical evidence to back up those claims, too. But can we simply blame "social forces" for putting us in the situation we find ourselves in today as McGee wants us to believe?

I am, by no means, a wealthy man. In fact, I could most likely be described as on the upper end of low-income according to American societal standards. Unfortunately, my wife has had numerous medical bills over the past couple of years which has given our budget a substantial and unexpected hit to put us in the predicament we are in today. The amount of money we owe just from the doctor bills is in the five figures. I'm not complaining, I'm simply stating the facts.

But despite these increasingly difficult "social forces at work" in my life, I was STILL able to lose over 180 pounds and keep it off during that time. I even suffered a cut in pay at my job and my wife was forced to quit her job due to her medical condition, but somehow I still managed to lose weight. But how can this be? According to McGee and those who think like her, I should probably weigh closer to 1,000 pounds today sulking in my sorrows about the lot I've been given in life. I should have just rolled over and just let life happen to me and bemoan my circumstance. WAH WAH WAH like a baby!

But I think there is something that McGee neglected to account for in her theory about social forces causing obesity. It is the sheer resolve and determination of the individual. If someone wants to lose weight badly enough and is given the proper tools to do so, then they can and will be a weight loss success. My story proved that. Nothing is going to deny them of reaching their goals and they definitely won't allow a few roadblocks that come their way stop them from bettering themselves in the way they see fit. I oppose this fatalistic approach to life and my personal weight loss success story is evidence that this kind of thinking is both irrational and denigrating to the spirit of America.

America became the greatest country on Earth by setting itself apart from the rest of the world by allowing people to have the freedom to make their own choices. Sadly, too many Americans have chosen to allow their weight to reach an unhealthy threshold and our society as a whole is now paying the consequences for those decisions in a variety of ways. But it is not too late for each of those individuals to begin anew today and better themselves however they can.

If you call that "self-help," then so be it. But that's exactly what needs to happen to produce real changes in our society, especially when it comes to dealing with obesity. Start with yourself and let your neighbor learn from your example so they can then do it for themselves. We could start a social tidal wave that could sweep across this nation and bring about the lasting changes that people like McGee think can only happen if we petition the government for help.

Let me tell you something. If you are expecting the government to lose weight for you, then you've got a lot to learn about living in a free society. The government is not your mommy and daddy and they are not going to hold your hand anytime you have a problem in life. Sometimes you just need to exercise the freedoms you've been given to better yourself and not expect the government to do that for you.

Unfortunately, McGee wants people to petition their government for "a living wage" (what the heck is that anyway?), "reduced work hours" to give people more rest to recuperate from life, push their local governments to build more walking and bike paths as well as "affordable housing" (that's all we need is more government housing projects), and government-supported growth of "nutrititious food crops" grown by "small, local farmers."

I'm sorry, Ms. McGee, but I'm not buying into your socialistic worldview to bring about change in my life and community. There are better ways to make the kind of changes that need to happen rather than advocating such an extreme liberal agenda as you are proposing. I appropriately label your ideas as such primarily after I read what you listed as "last, but not certainly not least" among your proposed social changes.

"Guaranteed national health insurance, ensuring that the 45 million uninsured Americans gain access to reliable healthcare—and that all of us are free from the coritsol-upping stress of worrying about keeping our coverage."

Give me a break! Giving people free healthcare will not solve the obesity problem the U.S. , Ms. McGee. Just ask the Canadians who have free national health insurance how they like it and whether it has made a dent in their obesity rates. It just hasn't happened and their healthcare system is arguably one of the worst in the entire world. Is that what you want for the United States of America, Ms. McGee? Ugh!

One glance at the other columns McGee has written on her Self-Help, Inc. blog confirms that this is indeed what she wants for America. Had I listened and taken the advice of people like her when I was 410 pounds, then I would not be the healthy, vibrant, optimistic on life 220-something pound man that I am today. I bettered myself the old-fashioned way -- I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, took a long hard look in the mirror, and determined that I needed to change. And that's what I did. The rest, they say, is history.

You can e-mail Micki McGee to tell her what you think about her misguided theories about treating obesity by writing to her at

1-18-06 UPDATE: It seems this post I wrote struck a nerve with the good folks at Oxford University Press today because I got the following e-mail from a representative there about my "surprising response" to Ms. McGee's column:

"I'm not sure how you conclude that Ms. McGee wants people to wait for society to help them with their problems. In my reading of her post, she believes that individuals should look to solve their own problems by looking beyond themselves and reaching out to help solve problems in society at large. The tone of your attack on the societal problems Ms. McGee suggests are worthy of such work is regrettable."

Did we read the same column? It was painfully obvious to me when I read Ms. McGee piece that she believes government should be the end all solution to all of the problems she detailed, and thus abdicating individual response. If she meant something else then she should have made is explicitly clear in her writings.

As for describing my response as an "attack," I don't think I attacked anyone. What I did was simply point out my commonsensical reaction to the claims made by Ms. McGee and where I believed she was specifically wrong in her thinking.

While you may find what I wrote "regrettable," anyone who reads my posts at this blog knows I will not mince words and will simply share what is on my mind. That's the way I will ALWAYS write in this and any other forum I am privileged to write for.


Blogger Newbirth said...

A living wage is something above minimum. I make $13 an hour and still can't afford a car and only live in a studio apartment. I get by from month to month with no savings. Minimum wage is not liveable here. I know because I've been there.

And the government does need to stop subsidizing corn and start subsidizing healthy food. Corn is even in my cat's food for God sakes! It's a common filler. I pay more than $2 a pound for a high quality food with less fillers than the regular store brands.

I'm all for affordable housing through rent control. As it is I pay $700 a month for a studio apartment. I thankfully have a forgetful owner who said he would raise the rent but never gave me the papers. So I'm still paying $700. He could legally raise my rent about $20 if he wanted to, but only that much because of rent control where I live.

As for fitting exercise in, you can if you want. I work 8 hours most days and get to the gym whenever I can. And still get 7 hours of sleep a night. That's on the bus, which takes 3 or 4 times longer to get anyplace than if I had a car.

I slept late when I was fat. Now I get to bed earlier so I can get up earlier and go to the gym.

I do believe in self-help books. I read Dr. Atkins' book and look where I am today. :)

1/17/2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

What's wrong with self-help?

That's how America got to be the greatest nation on Earth - not from Big Government and/or hordes of bloody bureaucrats, pencilnecks and beancounters.

Imagine what would have happened if the Wright brothers would have been a lawyer and a accountant: that's right, absolutely nothing! The legal risk would be too high, the commercial feasibility too low and the ROI doubtful, ad infinitum.

Instead, they were two brilliant bicycle engineers who singehandedly proved the scientific mainstream establishment totally wrong. Up to 5 years after their first flight the establishment and Gov't refused to acknowledge the possibility of powered heavier-than-air flight.

Reminds me of a certain doctor in NY...

America was built on good old-fashioned entrepreneurship, sheer courage, determination and ingenuity. The bureaucrats and "civil" or "public servants" (which they are neither) came later to cash in and little by little nivellate and regulate everything including taking away our freedom step by step.

Governments in general are the least reliable partners imaginable. I've seen it happen in Europe, in the USA, and many other countries. And now we should hand over our last freedoms, our very own health, and bow for them?

"Jamais" as the French say!

Look what successive Governments have done to America's position, institutions and overall credibility... not to mention our very own health!

I think the world has seen enough socialism-smelling experiments and the (rather predictable) results. It's time Americans stand up and take their county back. The USA, now more than ever, needs leaders with especially vision, courage and determination - leaders of the caliber of, for example, a Winston Churchill, J.F. Kennedy, Abe Lincoln, M.L. King.

But that's just my two cents worth, and I'm not even an American...

1/18/2006 2:56 AM  

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