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Can We Talk About Obesity, Really?

There are quite a few double standards in our country. If you're a woman, you know the names that come with being too flirtatious or being over 40 and unmarried versus the same behaviors in men. What about our money? Some rich corporations can hoard and misuse it while hard-working folks face IRS audits and foreclosures. Priests and coaches that claim to have their communities' best interests at heart prey on and ruin the lives of young children.

And then of course, there's food and our health. If you're a healthy person, that most likely means you're at—or close to—an ideal body weight. There's nothing abnormal about that fact, except that nearly 2/3 of our nation's adults are now overweight or clinically obese. Not only have we normalized this by increasing clothing sizes or making public transportation roomier, but we also have turned the tables a bit.

Certainly there are campaigns underway to address obesity—from Michelle Obama's efforts to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also made his concern well known with racy billboard ads about the effects of type II diabetes, and his proposed soda ban. Even fast-food chains have feigned concern by offering "healthier" menu items. School lunch programs have made major strides in providing our nation's students with more nutritious food. These efforts are making changes and bringing awareness to the importance of health, but fancy campaigns and policy changes aside, how do we talk to each other about obesity?

If you're thin (as in, normal weight, not underweight due to illness, etc) you've probably heard this at least a dozen times: "Oh my gosh, you're so skinny!" It can feel almost like there's something wrong with you for not putting on the pounds. It's an awkward moment. But try to turn the tables: "Oh my gosh, you've gained a lot of weight!" And, well, hopefully you have another ride home from the party.

Perhaps you've experienced the uncomfortable situation of dining with family or friends who have a different relationship with food. You're stuck with the house salad and water while they gorge on ribs, Buffalo wings, and Mountain Dew. You'll most likely have to let the jabs and rabbit food comments seem like they don't hurt; but try talking about the saturated fats in deep-fried foods or the genetically modified grains fed to the pigs now slathered in barbecue sauce. Uh-oh.

Is it the responsibility of healthy people to talk to those who aren't about their health? If you witnessed a car accident right in front of you, most likely you'd pull over and help, or at least, call the paramedics. You'd take care of a loved one bleeding, or battling the flu or cancer. So why can't we talk honestly about obesity to the people we see being victimized by the corporate food industry?

We all have the right to live the way we want to live. But is choosing an unhealthy lifestyle really a genuine desire? Yes, we make decisions for ourselves, but these foods that are bad for us have become increasingly unhealthier over the years; the ads that lure us to them, more clever; the options more numerous and ubiquitous; and the desire for more of them, often insatiable.

Many factors play a role in our health, and some we wouldn't even think of could be the cause of obesity—from pesticide exposure to genetic disorders. Sometimes all we can do is care for those struggling. Sometimes we can help them heal and change their habits. Regardless of the outcome though, erasing the double standards that exist in our own minds first and foremost is the healthiest place to start.

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