Unjust Health

childhood-obesityYou’ve probably heard it in the news off and on about the obesity epidemic in the US and most of all the issue of childhood obesity. According to WebMD, obesity is when you’re 20% over the normal bodyweight for your age and height with a Bod Mass Index (BMI) over 30. Morbid obesity is when you’re 100lbs over the normal bodyweight for your age and height and a BMI over 40. A large portion of people in the US are considered obese (WebMD even has a list of the fattest and fittest states in the nation).

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, has had a strong and good push for health and the fight against obesity. Politics aside (it doesn’t matter what your political leaning is, it’s still a good fight to fight) those who are fighting for ending childhood obesity and obesity in general are in many ways battling the symptoms and not the deeper problem.

Back between 2008-20011 I was weight lifting and working out almost daily, bulking up on muscle, toning down the belly fat, and being very active and losing weight. When I saw a doctor for a check up once, he said that I was morbidly obese, he stated that a man my age and height shouldn’t be over 200lbs. My response? My skeleton weighs that much! I’m 6 foot 5 with a skeltal frame of a linebacker from the Bears (and the talent of one from the Lions). I have size 15 shoes and wear extra tall clothes. My fat to muscle ratio was good at the time too, yet I didn’t fit the boundaries of what was considered healthy.

I’ve grown lax in my exercise, weightlifting, etc. to the detriment of my health. After some health issues and consulting my doctor, my wife and I have begun changing our eating habits and physical activity. And then I started noticing an injustice happening.

Those who are fighting obesity are pushing for better caloric restrictions, lack of sweets and sugary sodas in schools, and better healthier options. That’s great. But it’s not working.

I’ve looked at grocery stores and have begun to see an issue. Since we started eating healthier with fresh ingredients, fresh fruits and veggies, leaner meats like turkey and chicken, etc. our food budget has increased. This stuff is expensive! Not just that, but it takes a lot of time to cook (and you even need to know how to cook too in order to make it!).

Think about it this way: You’re a good family who is hard working and making okay wages, you have a mortgage (the house was a expensive in 2007 and less now in 2014), car payments, some credit card bills, and what not. You’re trying to live within your means and be responsible. So when you go grocery shopping, you try to stay within your budget. You take your time availability into consideration as well. Both parents work and are busy(or if a single parent, you’re twice as busy), kids have soccer games and school events to go to. You need something inexpensive and quick to make for dinner and breakfast (assuming the kids are having healthy lunches provided at school).

What’s cheaper and quicker? Hamburger helper, high fat ground beef, and maybe some veggies in a can. Mac and cheese, cheap hot dogs or canned chili. Cheap spaghetti sauce and cheap noodles. Mircowave meals that feed the whole family. Better yet, McDonalds has a cheap menu and you can eat in the car.

And that’s for a good, solid, middle class family living the American dream politicians are always trying to say the speak for and fight for.

What about the single mother working two jobs to make ends meet? What about those who are out of work and unemployed? What about those living off of food stamps and WIC? Their budget’s even tighter. What food is less expensive for them to buy and eat that fits what they have and need? Something more healthy that takes time and energy and money they don’t have to prepare, or something that’s “plug and play” to eat. Or better yet, the dollar menu at some fast food place?

scaleTeaching caloric intake is great. Teaching physical activity is wonderful. I think it was great that sometime back the Nick stations wen to off the air for 3 hours to encourage kids to go outside and play (it was raining at our house so the kiddos were stuck inside anyway). But the problem doesn’t lie there. That is but the symptoms of something larger.

Recently I read a post that looked at the body shape and sizes of different athletes seen to be the best in their field. The athletes ranged from skinny marathon runners to the best weightlifters and strongmen around. It was interesting to see how body shape and size fit each sport. Form and function work in harmony. Weight, body mass, etc is thrown out the window because each sport calls for a different body shape, size, and body mass (and I’m pretty sure that the heavy lifters are much much stronger than the body builders).

We have a list of what is thought normal for weight based on age and height. Yet different body shapes and sizes and genetics dictate fat content, BMI, shape and size. I read in one book on weight lifting that a person of northern European descent will have a harder time in decreasing their BMI due to their genes.

In trying to fight obesity and childhood obesity, more problems have arose. Positive body image is a hard thing for many people today because being a different body type leads to a different body shape and not the norm (and what exactly is the norm based on anyway?) which people are judged by. People are being put on a restricted caloric diet by schools when instead education on how to cook and shop and budget time and money might be needed more.

I find interesting what Jesus said (this is Spiritual Musclehead you know)

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Are we giving good gifts when we push for caloric intake, a weight and BMI based on some set of normal, and symptoms of something larger or are we giving stones and snakes instead?

obesityWhy is it unjust health? Well, honestly it isn’t treating a person holistically. It isn’t treating the person with dignity and as image bearers of God. Instead it is treating people like problems and finding solutions that attack the symptom and not the deeper issue.

If we are to truly help others be healthy, then we need to help them rethink, retool, rework what is there. If those who like to give subsidies could give subsidies for healthier foods like fresh fruits and veggies, that’s great. Give discounts for healthier food for those on restricted budgets and food stamps. Food Banks, teach people how to cook the food you give out. Churches, encourage a healthier lifestyle.

And as a leader in the church, I need to model this as well.

Where have you seen unjust health in action? How can you help with just health?

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