Tried to get this article published with the Guardian and The Age. Both declined.
It's an article in response to some public banter a few weeks ago between Michelle Bridges, Chrissie Swan and Meshel Lawrie.
Before you read any further I need to make a declaration. I used to be a fatty, a real big unhealthy fatty. I’m no longer a big fatty after reaching some horrible point of obese despair (and receiving a stern talking to from my GP) I placed myself on a trajectory for healthier living. I didn’t get healthy by joining a commercial weight loss program, signing up for a 10 week detox booty camp, nor did I take supplements, purchase powdered protein shakes or join a gym. I lost weight (and in doing so became much healthier) by taking the most basic of advice of which consisted of, eating mostly plant based food, a little meat and dairy, drinking less booze and embracing moderate exercise. It’s a health and wellbeing message the government has toting for decades, way before our ‘wellbeing era’ of the bikini clad, yoga, green smoothy, coconut age of wellness enlightenment.
It’s taken me a few years, but have eventually wound up 23.5kg lighter, my high blood pressure is reduced to non medicated levels, my depression and anxiety has subsided, I no longer have reactions to certain processed foods and most importantly I’m no longer in the high risk category for many preventable lifestyle diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and stroke. This positive health story does’t make me invincible, I will still die eventually, we all will, but while I’m here my quality of life has been greatly improved and my risk of preventable illness has been dramatically reduced.
Now that we have that messy business out of the way, let’s look at a recent obesity related controversy that’s been playing out in popular media of late. The trio of opinions from Michelle Bridges, Chrissie Swan and Meshel Laurie. The backstory is that Michelle Bridges (described as Australia’s most influential health and fitness expert) made some comments on a recent episode of ABC’s Australian Story “I can tell you, I'm yet to meet someone who is morbidly obese and happy”. Which garnered a reaction from Chrissie Swan, who was all like “Hi, Michelle, if you are listening, remember me? I've known you for years. We have met many, many times. You can take it back now. I'm happy.” And then Meshel Laurie was all like “I'm such a lucky person. I've got two arms that work, two legs that work. A brain that's sharp” “It is actually possible to be fat and happy, I promise you.” Do yo get the picture?
How has the issue of obesity shifted away from the serious impacts to become an issue of how we ‘feel’? It’s apparent we live in an age where the importance of ‘me’ has more sway then ‘us’ or ‘community’. The focus of this recent debate has been on how we feel when we’re obese, and if you listen to Meshel and Chrissie you’d almost think it feels completely ok when you’re obese (as a person that’s lived most his adult life obese, I’d strongly disagree with this sentiment, and my years of substance abuse in an effort to ease feelings of self hatred are testament to it, happy days!)
The real issue is much greater than the simplicity of how we ‘feel’ about ourselves, instead shouldn’t we be focusing the spotlight on the severe impacts of obesity, be they social, physiological and economical, for both the individual and the wider community? (Wider community! Come on, I’m on fire!).
Australia is one of the unhealthiest western countries and it’s costing us billions, 132.7 billion in the year (to September 2015) according to the Fairfax Lateral Economics Index. State Governments around the country constantly plead with the Federal government for further funding for a heavily burdened health care system doing its best to keep up with demand. It appears we have a treadmill situation in play. For all the years I was obese (15+) I visited my GP often, presenting with obesity related issues, depression, anxiety, hyper tension, skin rashes (don’t ask) dietary fibre issues (also don’t ask) and endless chiropractic sessions, all of which not only cost me money, they also cost the state. I was one of now millions of obese ‘clients’ requiring medical services from our public health care system.
The causes of obesity are complex, and there is no quick fix single brush stroke solution. However if you strip away the social and economical context and you’re left with a very simple formula. The scales of energy inputs and energy outputs are currently out of balance. Rudimentarily speaking, we’re consuming energy rich food but not burning it up with energy expending exercise, blame modern living, it’s 2016 after all and life is just way too easy.
The high energy food that’s responsible for our obesity crisis sits proudly on the shelves of supermarkets, is served at the drive through of fast food chains and is cleverly marketed to us toting it’s ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ credentials. I used to believe in that hype, as a result it made me very sick. Once I removed that type of food from my life, my weight issue reduced and more importantly my health returned.
Health can be subjective, a person can smoke all their lives, drink booze everyday and happily live to 100, but that’s an anomaly. There’s a reason why the Heart Foundation uses BMI measurements as a guide for healthy living, because it’s based on peer reviewed statistical analysis, incorporating both the anomaly, outliers and the norm.
We know climate change is a real thing and what’s caused it, we also know we have an obesity problem and what is causing it, so it makes you wonder why the very food that’s responsible for the problem is still available to buy? Ironically, just as the focus on ‘feelings’ currently dominates the obesity debate, economics is what’s driving the continuation of poor health. Until we see change in what’s presented to the public as ‘food’ we won’t see much of a change at all, no matter how we ‘feel’ about ourselves.