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They're Just Lazy

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Last week I blogged about how some people exclusively blame parents for their children being overweight. But who do you blame once someone is an adult? Why, that person, of course. Because they’re just lazy. This was one of the prevalent themes in some of the responses to the JAMA study and related articles. I had to stop reading them because they infuriated me. I knew people thought that way, but somehow seeing their vitriolic words in print, with so much support, hit me viscerally. I remember too well feeling that negative energy directed at me when I was heavy, that if I just moved my fat ass then I could lose the weight. What no one who isn’t in that position pauses to consider is the sheer amount of effort it takes to move your body, ass or otherwise, when you’re overweight. I would really love to see some of the people who talk about laziness strap on 50 or 100 pounds and walk around with it, day after day after day, go up stairs, pick things up, carry small children, etc. This is work, but it’s unrecognized because our bodies do grow accustomed to it and slowly adjust as we gain weight, at least for the most part. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it can take an incredible amount of strength. Of course that doesn’t mean that people who are heavy shouldn’t exercise – I think they just deserve a little more credit and sympathy about the exercise they get that’s built-in. More than that, though, I learned something rather interesting in a recent lecture at IIN. It was presented by Marion Nestle, a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. She was looking at the fact that weight gain really started to be a problem in the 1980’s, but she pointed out that studies have shown that activity levels haven’t changed significantly since then. Let me repeat: as a nation we have been gaining weight, but our activity levels haven’t changed. How, then, is sheer laziness to blame? People are moving as much as they did in the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and most of them weren’t particularly obese. Additionally, I have known many, many a thin person who moves much less than I did even when I was overweight. How, then, do you explain the difference between us? Dr. Nestle pointed out a number of factors. We have: 700 more calories available per person per day; a “gorge yourself” society; farm subsidies; increased portion size; greater proximity and availability to food; increased pressure on food companies to make a profit (i.e., their goal is not to create healthy foods); and deregulation in advertising. I might be missing something, but the point is that none of this has to do with movement or laziness. And in fact, telling people who are overweight that they are lazy could have the unintended consequence of making them that way. After all, you tell someone something long enough, even if it’s not true, and they’ll start to believe it. For those who like to blame laziness, I therefore ask you to reconsider, and also to reconsider the negative, hurtful impact of those words before you share them.

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