Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Shaq Attack on Fat

Behold! An NBA superstar does something to be admired: he is attempting to change the lives of several kids who have been diagnosed as "morbidly obese" and at severe risk for health problems. In the previews for Shaq's Big Challenge on ABC's Good Morning America today, it appears that much of the problem lies with parents who are unable to say "no" to their kids requests for food.

Shaq is doing his part to turn around some disturbing trends in American health.

1. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, American children born in 2007 may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This is attributed mainly to lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, and subsequent complications from this lifestyle including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other other ailments.

2. Americans are shorter in stature than their their European counterparts. This was not always the case. Economist Paul Krugman writes,

There is normally a strong association between per capita income and ...
average height. By that standard, Americans should be taller than Europeans:...
But ... something has caused Americans to grow richer without growing
significantly taller.

Why is this so? The changing ethnic mix you say? Nope, says Krugman.

It’s not the population’s changing ethnic mix...: the stagnation ... is clear even ...[for] native-born whites.

Americans are a wealthy lot compared to just about any country, but many other countries are growing taller than we are.

3. The U.S., with our immense wealth, top-notch medical facilities, access to education, and being the world's superpower, should have the highest life expectancy of any country, right? Well, that's asking a lot. But, top 10 for sure...right? No. Top 20? Top 30? Top 40? No, no, and no. We checked in at #45 according to the 2007 World Fact Book, behind nearly every country that most folks consider "highly developed." Japan, Switzerland, Australia, France, Iceland, Canada, Italy, Spain, Norway, Israel, Greece, Austria, Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Jordan, Puerto Rico, and Bosnia and Herzegovenia all rank ahead of the U.S. among many other smaller countries. Why?

As an aside, most of these countries have a lower infant mortality rate, too. Again, I ask, why?

Do these countries have better health care? Better access to it? Better genetics? I doubt that any of those are true. I would hypothesize that they have healthier lifestyles. When visiting Spain a couple of years ago, an older Spanish lady told me that the secrets to their long lives and healthy bodies were "olive oil and lots of walking."

So, I will tune in at 8 pm central to see Shaq's "tough love" approach with these kids. I generally hate reality TV and since Lost is in reruns, there is not a single TV show that I watch on a weekly basis. I will watch tonight mostly out of sheer curiosity.

It is significant that a person weighing 335 pounds is doing this. He has just 14% body fat, which is in the low-normal range for a man. It would not be nearly as effective if some 150-lb fitness trainer was doing this show. Shaq is literally and figuratively larger than life for these kids. For all of my blogging against our weight trends in the U.S., a healthy body has little to do with how thin a person appears. There are plenty of healthy people who are viewed as "bigger" or "heavy."

God gave us all a body. Some of us are better designed for marathoning. Others are better suited for basketball. Still others have the build for swimming, power-lifting, football, or some other activity. An individual's ideal body is not found on the Gap Iconostasis, or on the pages of fashion magazines. Shaq's ideal body weight is 335, give or take. Serena Williams will never be small, but she is quite fit and an amazing athlete. Charles Barkley, while a bit pudgy these days, was known as the "Round Mound of Rebound" in his playing days, but he was a brick house. He was just wide. The U.S. Women's soccer team has done wonders for projecting an image of healthy bodies over just thin ones. (A longer "body image" post will have to wait until another day.)

We all will not and should not look the same, but we can all strive for health whether our ideal weight is 120, 150, 200, or 335. Hopefully, Shaq can help turn the tide for kids in this country.
He has been a collegiate All-American, an MVP, an NBA Finals Champ, a clothing/shoe mogul, a rapper, and an actor. This health thing should be a piece of cake...rice cake, that is.


James Miller said...

Lord have mercy...

Cort said...

Well, I have to say that it was sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, and it did keep me interested for the whole hour.

1. Focused on losing weight as a by-product of being fit. That is the right mindset.
2. Shaq is good at confronting the kids and parents without being attacking.
3. They let the medical expert apply the "crucial moment" after their physical exams. This made the kids' conditions very real to them and to the viewer.

Some of Shaq's lines and antics seemed very staged. It seemed like he was "playing dumb" for effect. Of course, this is a TV show. But this is more evidence that there is no such thing as "reality" TV.

That said, it was intriguing enough that I will watch again next week. That is not true for 95% of TV shows that I give a chance, so I am at least intrigued by the subject matter.

I just hope Shaq NEVER, EVER does another commercial for a fast food joint or candy bar or Pepsi or whatever. He has closed that door if he wants to maintain credibility. Heck, next week's show has footage of him appealing to the Florida government to make PE mandatory.

I hope he sticks to his guns.

Jeff said...

I agree that it was an interesting show. It was sad seeing how overweight and out of shape those kids were last night but the reality is they aren't hard to find in every school in America. They are becoming more the norm rather than the exception. Hopefully the show will make some difference in the excercise/eating habits of today's youth.
I am not sure if if the show will do well in the ratings but i do think it is much more interesting than most shows today.

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

I hope he attacks fat better than he attacked rap.

Travis said...

I disagree Cort. Although I understand what you're saying about Shaq not doing commercials for fast food, sodas, candies, etc. I don't agree that he will lose credibility. What should be taught to these children and their parents is a soda is fine, a candybar is fine, and (Cort gulps) fast food is fine if it's done in moderation.

We may have to strictly define moderation for these parents who allow their children to run the household and dinners. Apparently they can't graps the concept.

We'll use the Good Idea/Bad Idea template from Animaniacs:

Good Idea: Enjoying a cold soda at your favorite restaurant.
Bad Idea: Enjoying a cold soda at each meal (or even each dinner.)

Good Idea: Enjoying a Snickers after a day of work on the farm (brings back memories of hay baling, bologna sandwiches, cold RCs and a Snickers!)
Bad Idea: Enjoying that bag of Snickers minis you get at the grocery store each week.

Good Idea: Taking the kids to McDonald's after a week of Vacation Bible School at their request.
Bad Idea: Making McDonald's a weekly cop out for a quick dinner (or making it a frequent reward.)

These weren't very thought out and might be canon fodder. We'll see how you all react. But my overall point is fast food, candy, and soda will always be there and are popular generally because they taste good. The teaching has to enforce that these things won't kill you in moderation, but overindulgence (again, clearly defined) can and will kill you.

Cort said...

I don't disgree with you in principle, Travis. It's a problem of perception.

He can't do this show and then also rake in millions for peddling the very stuff he is attempting to eradicate from the diets of these overweight kids.

You can't bite into a Big Mac with "I'm Lovin' It" jingling in the background and simultaneously try to stop kids from eating excessively at McDonald's. McDonald's is a business. They get celebrities and athletes because they will sell more product. If they clearly stated in their commercials that McDonald's is a once-a-month treat, that would be different. But, they won't.

Shaq can no longer be a part of that world and maintain his status as a health crusader. Even though there may be nothing wrong with an occasional trip to McDonald's, it's a matter of perception at this point.

Travis said...

What I'm wondering is if we will end up polarizing this issue like we do so many in this country. You're either pro health or you're pro McDonald's.

I understand exactly what you're saying. McDonald's marketing is directed at children. I know. I watch Disney every morning and see Ronald McDonald playing frisbee with the curly haired kid right before Little Einsteins.

But if Shaq does continue his Pepsi endorsement, has he made this effort moot?

Cort said...

Maybe not moot, but he will get killed in the media for it.

It would help if McDonalds' would come to the middle a bit. And, slowly but surely, they are. Early reports say that the trans fat-free canola oil blend they have been working on for their fries is getting great reviews so far. See, if McD's fries ACTUALLY DECOMPOSED like other plant matter, it would be easier to soften the stance against them. :)

Their fries will exist indefinitely for months in a jar without breaking down. Ever found a stray one on the floor board under the seat of your car? It looks the same as the day you purchased it. How do six year-old bodies handle this?

Fast food marketing is on one polar end of the spectrum: hook kids with toys, promos, and great-tasting but unhealthy food. "Supersize Me" is on the other polar end, overindulging to prove that it's bad.

Unlike the two dominant political parties, some movement toward the middle IS happening in the fast food arena. Fruits and veggies are finding their way onto menus. Juice and milk are becoming available. Trans fats are going away. Of course, this is somewhat offset by unholy beasts like the Meatnormous and McGriddle, but I think the overall trend is positive. :)

Can one be pro-health and pro-McDonalds? Yes. When McDonald's makes health a priority, one certainly could.

Travis said...

Agreed. And frankly I agreed with you pretty much the whole way. I just wanted to argue a bit.

Speaking of Meatnormous and McGriddle, I was at the Wendy's drive thru yesterday (for my boss, not for me.) and they have the Baconator. I kid you not. It's called the Baconator.

Jeff said...

it says on wendy's website about that new burger--Baconator

Six bacon slices piled high atop two1/4 lb. fresh, never frozen, burger patties. Complete with American cheese and mayonnaise dressing on our signature premium bun. Go on, obsess a little.

Derek said...

wow, that sounds delicious. Glad I'm not living where wendy's is.

while it'd be hard to make a case saying that that the countries in your list has better health care, I don't think it'd be hard at all to say that they have better access to it. A lot of those countries host social systems in which every citizens gets 'free' access to health care of most any shape and size. I say 'free' because their income taxes are huge; based on an individual's wealth, someone here in austria could have half of his income taxed automatically, and he never even sees it in his paycheck. That sounds crazy, I know, but it sure is convenient for everyone, especially us poor folk.

Derek said...

though I am surprised Bosnia has a higher life-expectancy than us. They're a mess down there.

Cort said...

Now, Derek, everyone in the States knows that "universal health care" is the Devil's rocking horse and will surely be the end of us all. :)

You are probably right about access, and you would know far better than I. All I hear are horror stories about how we'll have to wait 6 months to have a severed arm reattached if we have universal health care.