This becomes abundantly clear as I continue to try to strip away three decades of poor eating habits that followed me from childhood to adulthood, as I traded an adolescence of inactivity for a sedentary career, and as I continue to try to lose weight and see the unflattering aftermath.
But should I have been taken from them? Should Child Protective Services have intervened on my pudgy behalf and punished my parents for knowing or maybe not knowing better?
When a prominent obesity specialist made this strongly worded suggestion in a respected medical journal last week, the kneejerk reaction from pundits and social media commenters was no. My kneejerk reaction was yes, based on experience; the experience of what obesity has meant to me but also what obesity has meant to this country.
I’ve always been part of the national statistics that says 60 percent of adult Americans are overweight and one-third of us are obese. I was born in 1974, when childhood obesity nationally was at 7 percent. In 2008, that number has more than tripled, now at 17 percent.
The costs associated with my life in obesity are too much to tally, but gastric bypass, the blood-pressure medications and prescription diets pills I’ve taken, the sleep apnea tests and treatments, the gall bladder removal, the doctors’ appointments tied to being fat, they’ve contributed to medical cost totals that now reach $127 billion annually from American obesity.
When I topped out at 575 pounds but was still employed by this newspaper, I regularly called in sick, let simple sprained ankles keep me off the job for days, let sleep apnea make me lethargic and less productive. That, of course, factored into economic costs associated with workplace losses that have reached by some estimates $140 billion a year.
Obesity in the United States costs this economy $270 billion a year, and much of that cost starts at home with poor eating habits, poor exercise habits, misinformation and no education on the issue among parents.
So, as the fog clears in my life, I find myself with irrational reactions to my past, including grudges against those who solved family problems with hot-fudge sundaes.
When Dr. David Ludwig, a noted obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, wrote his controversial opinion in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week, I entertained his ideas … for a moment. I have since come to my senses, and realize that’s too harsh, but it’s an emotional issue.
There are 2 million severely obese children in this country. In Imperial County, from ages 2-5, 14.8 percent of Imperial County children are overweight and 14.2 percent are considered obese, both below the state average. But from age 5-20, the overweight population is at 18.5 percent and the obesity percentage is at 25.6 percent, both above the average.
Simply from the known medical and economic costs, the drastically rising rates and dizzying numbers, obesity by definition is a national health crisis.
Rather than get a handle on it, it worsens. Rather than get behind an initiative by Michelle Obama to end childhood obesity, it becomes a wedge issue revolving around government intrusion.
For many of us, weight and obesity is a national obsession: for those who live with it, for those who despise it, for those trying to figure out ways to cure it, for those who try to exploit others’ obsessions through fad diets.
While it’s difficult to fathom the costs in hard dollars, the societal and psychological costs are pretty apparent; I have lived them, the motivational and self-esteem issues, the obsessive behaviors, the lingering effects long after the weight is shed.
It’s heavy, indeed, but does it really have to be that way?