Obesity is especially dangerous within a consumer culture with no national health insurance
My boyfriend and I walked into Starbucks late Sunday afternoon, something we often do after a day spent walking in the park, taking pictures and bird watching. In the back corner sat a very obese man I’ve seen there frequently and spoken to once or twice.
He always seemed like somewhat of a tragic figure, huddled alone over his laptop, smiling and laughing at some cyber interaction or another, but on this day I viewed him with abject horror. It had been a lovely, sunny spring day and he had elected to wear shorts leaving his legs exposed below the knee. He had huge swaths of what looked like decayed or dying tissue. One patch of it was stark white and looked like it might be mold.
I resisted the impulse to call an ambulance. I asked my boyfriend, “What could cause this man to neglect himself to such an extent?” he replied, “He probably can’t afford medical care.” Right, probably not.
According to the CDC, in 2011, about 1/5 of adults aged 18-64 have no health care insurance. If he is one of them, an ER won’t turn him away; the doctors will save his life if he’s actually dying. However, if he’s uninsured as my boyfriend believes, no one will pay for him to get nutritional counselling, gastric bypass surgery, a prosthetic once they amputate his legs below the knees or physical therapy to learn to walk again.
I know full well that it’s not just a lack of health care contributing to this man’s misery. I’m not as morbidly obese as he is, but I’m a big girl, one of the 35.7% of obese American adults.
I know how hard it is to convince myself to say no to all the sugary treats at Starbucks and elsewhere. You can’t turn on the television without seeing vibrant, healthy people eating junk food. So really, how bad can it be?
Sugar consumption has been linked to Type 2 Diabetes which causes the condition I was so horrified to see this poor man suffering from. Yet the food industry has done a brilliant job of making sugary foods seem like something normal, common and even (implicitly) healthy, just as the cigarette companies did in my childhood. Now it is the food industry’s turn to be duplicitous, deliberately making their products as appealing and addictive as possible.
What they should do is show a picture of this man on TV, like they do for anti-smoking ads where they have people who have had their larynx removed speaking to the public about the dangers of smoking.
Show him just as I saw him: sprawled alone in the corner of a Starbucks, holding his laptop on his chest, a few inches away from his face. Then let the camera pan down to a close-up of his legs, the flesh black and rotting away, a perfect metaphor for the living death of morbid obesity.
The voice-over could talk about how a diet high in sugar contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes and subsequent nerve damage, often ending in amputation and ultimate premature death. Perhaps then all that creamy milk chocolate and junk food might not seem quite so appetizing.