Terrance Heath

Live Free and Die Fat?

Filed By Terrance Heath | January 24, 2011 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Live Free, Michelle Obama, obesity epidemic, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin's Alaska

"Mama Grizzlies" and "refudiate" made the banished words list for 2010, but here’s some news that ought to make Sarah Palin smile. America’s obesity epidemic is proving good for business -- the funeral business, that is.

It’s no secret that Americans are battling obesity. ...The obesity problem not only affects how we live, but it changes what happens to our bodies when we die … and that has forced the funeral industry to change its business.

Twelve years ago, Cedar Memorial in Cedar Rapids purchased a body lift, capable of raising and lowering bodies and caskets weighing up to 1,000 pounds.

A Cedar Rapids-based company, Mortuary Lift Company, sells the lifts and the lift business is booming. Katie Hill’s company has grown 20 percent a year. Just this year, she sold more than 100 lifts in the United States and abroad. "It started out, you know, selling three machines a year on up, and now we’re actually producing quite a bit," Hill said.

Cedar Memorial president John Linge says larger loved ones also present a challenge for burial. "The funeral industry has had to respond by providing caskets, mausoleum crypts and burial vaults that will accommodate larger individuals." According to Linge, Cedar Memorial plans to add oversized burial crypts to its mausoleum in the next five years, showing that the obesity trend is not likely to end soon.

According to the Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America, oversized caskets may cost 15 to 25% more, but Linge says they help families visualize their loved ones in comfort.

So, why would this make Sarah Palin smile?

Well, not long ago, Sarah Palin took on First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign.

Sarah Palin took a shot at Michelle Obama during Sunday’s episode of her reality TV show, "Sarah Palin’s Alaska," jabbing the first lady’s anti-obesity campaign for attempting to deprive Americans of dessert.

While searching for s’mores ingredients on a family camping trip, Palin remarked:

"Where are the s’mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert."

Michelle Obama has been a key proponent of an initiative to improve children’s health by encouraging better diets and sufficient exercise. In May she announced her "Let’s Move" program, which promoted dessert alternatives, among other dietary suggestions.

This is where Palin starts making sense, depending on your outlook. Granted, the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity doesn’t have much force behind it. No government officials are going to come to your home and confiscate your butter, sugar, pie pans, cake pans, cookie cutters, etc. (Why just over the holidays, I made a French Apple Tart, a chocolate fudge cheesecake, and a batch of cookies without so much as a knock at the door.)

In fact, from what I’ve seen of the PSAs on Nickelodeon, etc., with "Let’s Move," the First Lady appears to be using her high profile position to encourage children and families to exercise more and choose healthier eating habits. There’s nothing there that smacks of the government telling you what to eat or banning desert from our dinner tables. As far as I can tell, the choice is still ours to make, as families, parents, etc.

But, as Thomas Jefferson said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and there is where maybe people are selling Sarah Palin short. It’s possible, after all, that today’s suggestions and encouragement of healthier habits could become tomorrow’s butter tax and springform pan confiscation. In that sense, perhaps Palin is merely demonstrating the kind of "eternal vigilance" that Jefferson spoke of. The government has no business even encouraging Americans to be healthier, let alone making it easier to do so by making healthy food more accessible.

Thus, Washington could have avoided the recent conflict between promoting both cheese consumption and fighting fat consumption: keep subsidizing saturated fats and "corn sugar", and stop urging Americans to consume less of them. Not only does this support the cause of freedom, but it could save the economy. (Making healthy food less costly is another option, but perhaps an economically dangerous one, as I’ll explain shortly.)

Now, Republicans have been slow to rally around Palin on this one, but perhaps they’re missing the boat.  Here’s where I think Sarah Palin may be on to something. Though it may seem harmless, the First Lady’s effort to reduce childhood obesity may be just another "job killing" government program.

By taking a stand for fat and freedom with her humble plate of s’mores, Sarah Palin may also be shining a light on a potential area of economic growth and job creation.

Look, thanks to the CDC we know that childhood obesity is way up -- from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in children 6 to 11 -- and that one in three American children is overweight or obese. A more recent study suggests that obesity affects kids as young as nine months old.

Again, the CDC explains what’s in store for these kids if diets and lifestyles don’t change.

Obesity is the result of caloric imbalance (too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed) and is mediated by genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.3,4 Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health impacts:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.5
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.3,6
  • Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.6

Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.3

Now, what’s going to happen to the growing markets for oversized caskets, larger funeral plots, roomier mausoleum crypts, and super-strength body lifts if more American children are detoured from the path to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes?

I’ll tell you. If more American children avoid these life-shortening, obesity-related conditions, this burgeoning industry would shrink back down to nothing, taking jobs with it. As it stands right know, America’s children are poised to keep this sector of the funeral industry in business and growing for at least a generation. (Maybe more, if their children are obese, too.)

I’ve long been critical of Palin, but maybe I "misunderestimate" her.

In our house, we’ve always tried to encourage healthy eating and exercise. We don’t buy much junk food. For snacks, we usually offer fresh fruit. When we sit down to dinner, it’s a balanced meal that includes grains and vegetables, but rarely anything fried. We often have dessert, but not unless they’ve eaten a reasonable portion of their dinner. (We don’t demand "clean plates," because we don’t want to encourage overeating, and they can "save room for dessert." But we try to give them portions appropriate to them and want to them to eat most of their meal before having desert.) We make sure they get exercise. Both of them take swimming lessons, and go for regular bike rides when the weather is nice. Parker takes Tae Kwon Do, and Dylan loves to go outside and kick his soccer ball around.

But now I wonder if we’re not part of the problem. Maybe eating lots of fat and sugar is as patriotic as buying an SUV.

Think about that next time to pass up a chance to double down on the latest fast food gimmick.

(Crossposted at Republic of T)

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Since we moved to DC, I've had the luxury of eating healthier and more locally grown produce. I love it.

I can actually see Sarah's point here, even though it's lost in the several overlapping layers of contempt and resentment that define her political persona.

It is annoying to be told to eat healthier by someone who doesn't even know you. And since Obama's not going to take on Big Agriculture any time soon, the structural issue that keep people from eating healthier aren't going to be addressed.

Lots of people can't afford fresh fruits and veggies (and I'm saying this as someone who can and does eat fresh produce every day, but mainly because I live in a country that subsidizes it), and with unemployment sky-high and Obama's indifference to it, I can see the reason to be resentful. It's just adding insult to injury to tell people to eat healthier while doing everything possible, in terms of policy, to ensure that they don't. (I'd also add that it's a conservative mentality to blame individual people for structural problems, but calling Obama conservative is impolite so I won't do it.)

Of course that wasn't Palin's reasoning, who's probably just trying to take advantage of the legitimate reaction of others for her own financial gain. But even look at this post itself... it's great that Michelle Obama is promoting healthy eating, but it won't do anything so people's freedom isn't being diminished. Huh?

My view is that there should be teeth to this program. Healthy eating is important and a government that supports it makes it about 30 times easier to do. Reduce subsidies for grain, take away subsidies from corporate agriculture, subsidize local producers especially of fruits and vegetables, give them more opportunities in cities to sell their products (one farmer's market in town is not accessible; they should be in every neighborhood), revamp the school lunch program so that schools have more to spend on ingredients and so that it's free for every child in a public school, and ban junk food ads directed at children.

Obama wouldn't dream of doing that, we already know, so the fact that Michelle's out there calling people slobs for not watching what they eat just grates me the wrong way.