McDonalds recently launched their new Triple Cheeseburger, essentially disguised as a Big Mac on steroids. What marketing whiz kid assessed that two beef patties simply was not enough and America was clamoring for three massive slabs of meat demanding Where’s the beef? This whopping 530 calorie cholesterol clogger consists of 70% of your daily recommended levels of saturated fats!
Actually, sadly, from a business decision based solely on analytics, it’s a brilliant move as 36% of Americans are now considered obese. This means you have a better than 1-in-3 chance of sitting next to someone on the plane that is literally spilling over into your seat. When you factor in another third of our population is overweight, statistically, if you are of normal weight, you are virtually guaranteed a miserable flight if seated in the middle row in economy sandwiched by two heavy people (been there!). And the trend is getting worse as the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, half of all Americans will be obese.
How did we get like this and who is to blame? There are so many cultural, financial, lifestyle, even emotional, elements with deep implications to this complicated answer that it would be impossible to expound on here. But is the tail wagging the dog? In other words, is McD’s just being a savvy company by giving the people what they want? Or, rather, are they to blame by offering massive portions on their cholesterol clogging menu so cheap and readily available? Burger King is equally culpable as they just launched a home delivery service in the UK (where 25% of adults are obese). And, Amazon, do we really need our food delivered to our doorstep? Between drive-thrus and over the top convenience, we never have to wander outside or even be seen anymore as we inhale our monster burgers and bag of chips.
The economic reality is we can buy a Triple Cheeseburger and supersize our fries cheaper than a chicken salad. This is precisely why The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee just proposed taxing foods bad for us and transferring the revenue generated to promote healthier behavior or subsidize the cost of fruits and vegetables. But if we leveled the playing field with cost and access, would we make better choices like an apple over the fries if both were priced and prominently displayed equally? Hmm…
Personal accountability has to weigh in here as we all make important eating choices daily. Each of us can make healthy, informed decisions regardless of the menu or fast food venue. When I see eight year old kids on their way to school with Venti Frappucinos smothered in whip cream (500+ calories loaded with sugar!), I wonder do their parents really believe that qualifies as a coffee? Why not just petition Haagen Dazs to open at 7 a.m. and stop fooling themselves.
While the biggest consequence is still on the individual’s health and wellbeing, on a macro level, there are significant economic costs associated with obesity. Chronic illnesses linked to obesity like diabetes and heart disease, as well as stroke and cancer, are expensive to treat. Companies are rapidly discovering an adverse impact on productivity and absenteeism at work too. This affects insurance premiums and cost of doing business which trickles down to all of us. This is precisely why so many corporations are implementing robust Wellness programs.
Inevitably, the stigma attached to this epidemic may rival the smoking population as we come to realize this is an issue that permeates through the fabric of society. When the AMA classified obesity as a disease in 2013, thereby allowing us to consider it as an illness, the message to many was that it eliminates personal responsibility. Because it can now be offered as a convenient excuse and changes the dialogue, turning the focus away from diet and exercise and towards exploring prescription drugs and surgery . We further soften the blow by using alternative references like “big and beautiful”, “plus sized”, “pleasantly plump” or “big boned.” Bottom line is if being fat becomes socially acceptable and perceived as an inescapable disease, there will be less drive and incentive to avoid being grossly overweight.
I am deeply compassionate for people struggling with their weight but I think the aforementioned sends the wrong message by offering misguided excuses, a wrong strategy and even surrender rather than a solution. Making healthful lifestyle choices and breaking bad habits is certainly not easy but, at the end of the day, we all must be held accountable by what we see in the mirror and not immediately feel a victim of a disease that is out of our control. After all, our personal health and wellbeing is the best gift we can offer ourselves.