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
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.